Offer Guidance to Avoid Confusion that ‘Personal Judgment’ May Cause

Mask-wearing rules that have been in place for three years as a measure against the novel coronavirus will soon be relaxed. To reduce confusion over whether people should wear or remove their masks, it is essential for the government to provide thorough explanations.

The government has announced that, in principle, it will from March 13 stop recommending the wearing of masks to prevent infection and will leave it to the judgment of individuals. School graduation ceremonies, even those held before March 13, will basically no longer require the wearing of masks, according to the government.

Explaining the move to quickly ease mask-wearing rules for graduation ceremonies in particular, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “Children have been wearing masks for the past three years. I hope they will participate in the graduation ceremonies while seeing each other’s smiling faces.”

Moving past life with masks is a necessary phase for the normalization of society. In Japan, however, the government has taken the initiative in calling for the wearing of masks since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, and the public has followed the request.

Suddenly changing the rules to require “personal judgment” at a time when the pandemic has not yet ended could become a source of confusion and misunderstanding.

What is even more confusing is that May 8 is the date when the status of the coronavirus under the Infectious Diseases Control Law will be downgraded from the current level of “equivalent to Category II” to “Category V,” the same level as seasonal influenza.

Many people must find it puzzling that rules on the wearing of masks will be relaxed before the alert against the infectious disease is lowered. Because this will be a major turning point, it is all the more important for the government to repeatedly and thoroughly explain the purposes of the new rules and when they will begin.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has indicated to boards of education and other organizations nationwide that students will be able to remove their masks at graduation ceremonies, while guardians and guests will be required to wear them.

However, some children may wish to wear masks for fear of infection. Masked life has so deeply taken root that some people have become reluctant to expose their faces to others.

It is necessary to take heed not to force people to wear or remove masks against their will or to allow discrimination or prejudice based on whether they are wearing masks, not only at school but also in various other everyday situations.

At the same time, consideration for the elderly and others at high risk of serious symptoms must not be forgotten. The government intends to continue recommending the wearing of masks at medical institutions, facilities for the elderly and crowded trains and buses. If restaurants and other establishments deem it necessary, they will also be allowed to request that their customers wear masks.

Businesses also need to present whatever policies they decide on in an easy-to-understand manner.

From now on, the public will be asked to wear or remove masks flexibly depending on the situation. It is important to build a society that is both supportive of those who are anxious, and respectful of each other’s positions and ways of thinking.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 17, 2023)