Japan to drop mask guidance, relax Covid-19 strategy

The new guidance will not have blanket recommendations for mask-wearing indoors and instead will leave the decision to each person. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

TOKYO – The Japanese government will drop its recommendation to wear masks indoors and downgrade its medical classification for Covid-19, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday.

The changes, effective from early May, will classify the disease on the same level as the flu, down from its current status on a par with tuberculosis and the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars.

“As for masking, regardless of indoors and outdoors, the decision will be left up to individuals,” Mr Kishida told a televised government meeting.

“We will take further steps towards ‘life with corona’ and make steady progress on returning to normality in homes, schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods and all facets of life.”

Masks are ubiquitous in public places and are commonly worn outdoors as well, despite the government having already said they are not necessary outside in uncrowded settings.

Even before the pandemic erupted in 2020, many people in Japan used masks when they had a cold or hay fever, or to ward off illness in the winter.

Polls by major media outlets have indicated that most people will continue wearing masks for public health purposes even if the government lifts its request.

The changes also mean that from May 8 – after Japan’s Golden Week holiday period – Covid-19 patients and their close contacts will no longer have to isolate.

South Korea also plans to drop its indoor masking requirement from Monday, while China has eased its strict zero-Covid stance in a sharp policy reversal.

The Japanese government also plans to remove an attendance cap on large events, the Yomiuri newspaper said, without saying where it obtained the information.

The limit to 50 per cent of venue capacity for events where people speak in “loud voices” will be lifted, it said. AFP, BLOOMBERG

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