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Coronavirus

EDITORIAL | Wearing Masks Now Optional, But Be Mindful of the Vulnerable

We still encounter individuals daily who are elderly, have health concerns, or live with family members who are at high risk of serious illness.

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Prime Minister Kishida holds a Cabinet meeting on March 13 without wearing masks. In attendance are Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, MILT Minister Tetsuo Saito and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Rules for wearing masks, which became a part of daily life after the appearance of COVID-19, have been relaxed. Although previously the government had recommended the wearing of masks indoors, effective March 13 this became a personal choice. 

Nevertheless, a spot check of people on the street on that first day after the guideline changed made it clear that the vast majority of Japanese still are reluctant to "demask."

It might seem difficult to suddenly change a habit that has persisted for nearly three years. However, let's remember that people should not seek to force others to either wear or take off their masks.

Remaining considerate of those around us is essential. We daily encounter in public individuals who are elderly, have health concerns, or live with family members who are at high risk of serious illness. Easing the rules for wearing masks should not divide people.

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Most people are still wearing masks as they come out of the Marunouchi exit of JR Tokyo Station in central Tokyo on March 13, the morning the mask requirement was lifted. (© Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

Lowering the Status of COVID

The government announced the relaxation of the masking regulations ahead of the lowering of the status of COVID-19. Under the Infectious Disease Control Law, the infectious disease classification will change. It will become a "Category 5" disease on May 8. That is the same as seasonal influenza. 

Of course, that does not mean that people should go maskless at all times and in all places. Wearing masks will continue to provide beneficial effects when worn during medical visits, visits to nursing homes, on crowded trains, and in other such situations which demand caution.

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People wearing masks dominated at Haneda Airport on March 13, even though the government's new policy of easing the rules for wearing masks was in effect. (© Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

Staying on Guard

We must continue to be on our guard that virus infections do not begin to spread once again. The start of the new fiscal year is approaching. There will be welcoming parties, farewell parties, and other occasions for socializing. Golden Week will be arriving in late April as well. The need for caution remains at a time of increased human mobility and social contact.

Up until now, even when walking outside, it has been difficult to take off one’s mask because of the attention that would attract from people around. But if we are to restore a normal lifestyle, it is time to start removing our masks in non-essential situations. 

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The key will be the dissemination of appropriate information. During a March 13 press conference, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, "We will get the message out in a clear way that does not confuse the public." 

Hopefully, the Prime Minister’s actions will prove as good as his words. 

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With the relaxation of the mask-wearing rule, some people were seen walking without a mask in front of JR Osaka Station without a mask before work on March 13 (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Remembering the Three Cs – Plus 

In addition, we expect that government-issued guidelines for each industry group, such as food and beverage and public events, will be presented in an easy-to-understand manner. It is also important to keep in mind the infection situation in a given community when deciding whether to wear a mask or not.

Government health experts last week laid out the "five essential rules" for infection prevention. They suggested carrying a mask to wear when necessary. 

They also reiterated the need for home treatment when you have health concerns, and caution regarding: 

  • closed spaces without adequate ventilation 
  • crowded places 
  • close contacts
  • careful hand washing.

Wearing a mask is only one infection prevention measure. It is important to remain flexible in our approach. We should not become fixated on masks, but should not take them lightly either.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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