Mask Guidelines Relaxed, but Commuters Still Covering Up

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Most commuters are seen in masks in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Monday, even after a relaxing of mask-wearing guidelines.

Mask-wearing guidelines from the government to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus were eased on Monday.

Under the new guidelines, individuals are told to use their own judgment on whether to wear masks based on the infection situation and the risk for any given location. But despite the change, the Monday morning commute still saw most people wearing masks.

The government continues to recommend masking up when visiting medical facilities and elderly care facilities and riding crowded trains and buses so as to prevent infection among people who are at high risk of developing a serious illness, such as the elderly.

As of Monday, East Japan Railway Co. stopped airing an announcement at stations and in trains calling for cooperation in wearing masks, and is leaving the decision up to passengers even during crowded hours. On Monday morning, only a few people could be seen riding trains or walking around JR Tokyo Station without masks.

“It was crowded on the train, so I wore one, but I took it off when I got out,” said a 30-year-old office worker in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward who was walking without a mask in front of Tokyo Station on his way to work. “I feel strange without a mask, but I think it will make it easier to communicate face-to-face.”

On the other hand, a high school senior from Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, who was waiting for the Shinkansen bullet train at Tokyo Station wearing a mask said: “I’ve been wearing a mask for a while, so it’s embarrassing to take it off. I’ll keep wearing it for a while to avoid any weird looks rather than out of fear of infection.”

Some companies have also left it up to their employees whether to wear masks from Monday, and convenience and department stores have changed their policies to let customers decide themselves whether or not to mask.

Unmasking started at government offices, too, on Monday, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida entering the Prime Minister’s Office without a mask on for the first time since assuming office. Kishida and ministers attended a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting held that morning without masks.

Meanwhile, staff at a facility for the elderly in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, wore masks to work on Monday. Family members visiting the facility are asked to wear masks as well.

“More people are expected to take off their masks, and we must prevent the spread of infection in the facility,” the facility manager said.