TOKYO - Japan started easing its coronavirus guidelines on mask-wearing Monday, now making it a personal choice whether to don the face coverings as it seeks to normalize daily activities that have been under public health restrictions due to the pandemic.
Although mask-wearing has not been a legal mandate in Japan, the government had recommended wearing masks indoors while not suggesting doing so outdoors. But most of the Japanese public wore them regardless of whether they were indoors or outdoors.
Under the new guidelines, the government still recommends using masks for medical institutions, nursing homes and crowded public transportation. It also notes that masks protect people at higher risk of serious illness, including the elderly.
Airlines, railways, buses and other public transportation will no longer ask customers to wear one, and the same goes for operators of major supermarket chains and convenience stores.
Schools will also, in principle, no longer request mask-wearing from April 1, the start of the Japanese academic year.
However, for barbers, beauty salons and other services, where the distance with customers is close, customers will still likely be asked to wear masks in most cases.
At music performances and concerts, attendees will be asked to follow the organizers' policies.
The review of mask-wearing guidelines comes ahead of the downgrading of the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as common infectious diseases on May 8.
COVID-19 is currently designated as a special category equivalent to or stricter than Class 2, which covers infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS.