Japan to Ease Mask-wearing Guidelines on March 13

The Yomiuri Shimbun / Pool photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers questions from reporters at a school in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, on Friday.

The government has announced the easing of mask-wearing guidelines on March 13, with the decision on whether to wear masks to be left up to individuals in most situations.

However, the government will continue to recommend mask-wearing in such places as medical institutions and on crowded trains in order to prevent the elderly and others at higher risk of serious illness from being infected with the novel coronavirus.

On Friday, the government’s COVID-19 task force revised its basic response policy to reflect the changes.

“We want to promote the return of daily life and economic and social activities,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference.

Although the new approach basically leaves the decision to wear masks up to the judgment of the public, the government also specified situations in which mask-wearing is advised to prevent infections among the elderly and other high-risk individuals.

Mask-wearing will continue to be recommended for workers and visitors at medical institutions and elderly care facilities, and rush hour commuters on crowded trains, buses and some other forms of public transportation.

However, the recommendation will not be issued to passengers on Shinkansen bullet trains, highway buses and other transportation with allocated seating.

New government guidelines state that mask-wearing when visiting crowded places amid the pandemic is an effective measure to protect people at high risk of serious illness.

Under the guidelines, people with COVID-19 symptoms, coronavirus patients and people who live with someone who tested positive for the disease will be advised to refrain from going out and to wear masks when visiting a hospital or during other such outings.

The government said it will be acceptable for businesses such as hotels and firms in the service industry to ask customers and employees to wear masks if they deem it necessary to prevent infections.

Regarding schools, mask-wearing will no longer be recommended from April 1, in principle. The government will also ask schools not to force students to wear masks or take them off. The current guidelines, which advise mask-wearing indoors, will be in place until the end of this academic year, but they will be eased for graduation ceremonies in March.

According to a notification issued by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to prefectural governments and other entities, mask-wearing will be recommended at graduation ceremonies when attendees sing the national and school anthems.

Parents and guests will be asked to wear masks in principle, but there will be no attendance caps.

Moves to ease mask-wearing guidelines were prompted by concerns that masks are having a negative impact on children’s growth and development.

The new guidelines will be implemented on March 13, giving the government enough time to inform the public and the private sector to prepare for the changes.

The government will reconsider the guidelines in the event of a rapid surge in infections.