Caixin
Mar 13, 2020 05:53 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Celebrity SoftBank Founder Finds Being Charitable During Virus Outbreak Isn’t Easy

Masayoshi Son, founder of high-tech investor SoftBank Group Corp. Photo: VCG
Masayoshi Son, founder of high-tech investor SoftBank Group Corp. Photo: VCG
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It seems there’s just no pleasing everyone during these sensitive times in Japan, which has emerged as one of the countries hardest hit by the global Covid-19 outbreak.

What started out as a charitable gesture by one of the country’s richest men to assist in the local fight against the virus quickly snowballed into a controversy that has left nobody satisfied. The events began on Tuesday, when the Twitter account of billionaire Masayoshi Son, founder of high-tech investor SoftBank Group Corp., suddenly came back to life after several years of dormancy.

Son discussed his concerns about Covid-19 and in a series of tweets in the following day described plans to donate kits that would allow 1 million people to be tested for the virus.

Japan was one of the earliest countries to experience a large outbreak outside China, in large part due to the spread of the virus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the port city of Yokohama. As of Thursday the country had confirmed 1,334 cases, about half of those from the Diamond Princess, and reported 22 deaths.

Son’s plan quickly became one of the hottest topics on Twitter, with surprisingly strong opposition. One person characterized the mood, pointing out that such widespread testing had strained medical systems in hard-hit countries like South Korea and Italy, and could do the same in Japan. That person also noted that such testing could return many false positives, further taxing medical resources.

That led Son to reconsider, and on Thursday he tweeted a new plan to donate 1 million face masks to organizations and hospitals looking after the elderly. Even that generated some protests from people saying such a move might deprive ordinary Japanese of a chance to secure the masks. That prompted Sun to clarify that the masks were being ordered and shipped from an overseas supplier.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com; twitter: @youngchinabiz)

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