TOKYO: The Japanese government decided Friday to drastically ease Covid-19 guidelines on mask-wearing on March 13, including those for public transportation and schools, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeks to relax public health measures for economic and social activities.
Under the new guidelines, passengers will only be recommended to wear face masks on trains and buses during rush hour or other occasions when public transport is especially congested, while students will not be requested to use them during school activities.
The decision comes amid the government’s downgrading of the legal status of Covid-19 to the same category as common infectious diseases like seasonal flu on May 8, in a major policy shift in its response to the outbreak that began in early 2020.
There has never been a mask mandate in Japan, but mask-wearing has become a daily custom among citizens for around three years. Kishida, who took office in October 2021, has said the decision to put on a mask, indoors or outdoors, will be left to individuals.
Although the new guidelines are designed to allow individuals to judge for themselves when to wear a mask in their daily lives, people will be recommended to wear them in certain situations, such as if they are displaying symptoms of the disease or whenever they visit a medical institution.
Wearing face masks will also be framed as an effective measure for protecting oneself and others, particularly when elderly people or other individuals at risk of developing severe symptoms if infected go to crowded spaces, government officials said.
When using public transportation, passengers will not be asked to wear a face mask, including on shinkansen bullet trains and long-distance buses where seats are usually allocated for individual customers.
In schools, students will no longer be required to wear masks but can opt to do so if concerned about their health. Earlier Friday, Kishida said the government will not urge students and teachers to wear face masks at school graduation ceremonies slated for March.
Provided preventative health measures are put in place, such as adequate ventilation in rooms, students and teachers will also not be requested to wear protective face masks during upcoming school graduation ceremonies, except when singing in groups, Kishida said.
Meanwhile, the government will suggest that schools do not force people who wish to keep wearing masks to remove them, he told reporters in Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo.
Currently, Japan’s education ministry recommends that students wear face masks in school whenever it is difficult to keep sufficient distance from others indoors. Wearing a mask during outdoor activities is not considered necessary.