COVID-19 update: Masks no longer requested in Japan
Japan on Monday dropped its requirement for people to wear masks after three years, but little has changed in a country that highly values their effectiveness in anti-virus protection.
Most commuters leaving Tokyo’s main train station in the morning were wearing masks as they set off to work. So were the people on the streets. Some lawmakers were still wearing masks during a televised budget committee meeting in parliament, although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was not wearing one when he arrived at his office on Monday.
Baseball fans who gathered outside the Tokyo Dome hours before Monday’s Australia-Czech Republic and China-South Korea games also wore masks. They will also be able to cheer without their masks as that ban has also been lifted.
Abandoning the mask-wearing requirement is one of the latest steps the Japanese government is taking to ease COVID-19 rules in public as it tries to expand businesses and other activities.
“As of today, wearing a mask is left to individual judgment. We don’t force anyone to wear it or take it off,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters upon arriving at his office. “I think there will be more occasions when I take off my mask.”
Kishida, however, asked people to use masks around vulnerable people to protect them from the risks of infection.
In a country where the pressure to conform is extremely strong, it was expected that many people would continue to wear them for the time being. Last summer, the request for masks was lifted outdoors, but many continued to wear them.
Restaurants, shops and airlines have removed signs asking customers to wear masks. But many of their employees keep their masks on to show consideration for customers and others who need protection.
Popular Ramen Jiro tweeted Monday that wearing masks is up to customers, but that employees will continue to wear them for now. It also asked customers to cooperate in hygiene measures, such as not talking loudly.
Spectators at baseball and football games will no longer be required to wear masks and will be allowed to cheer without masks. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks announced that visitors and employees at their stadium can use their own judgment regarding masks starting Monday.
Last fall, Japan stopped requiring COVID-19 tests for applicants who had at least three shots, part of a cautious easing of the country’s measures after nearly two years of virtually closing its borders to foreign tourists.
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