TOKYO - Singaporeans should continue to wear masks outdoors if they feel unwell even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (May 27).
Mr Lee, who is on his first visit to Japan since 2019, observed that the Japanese are "very, very conscientious".
"It is a good habit and I think it is a longstanding instinct," he noted.
He added that it has long been a practice in Japan even before Covid-19 that "if you are sick, you go out with a mask and protect other people from yourself".
And as such, even as Japan has not imposed any punitive measures on those who do not wear masks throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, PM Lee said: "There is no compulsion, but there is a lot of social expectation. And I think that these are some of the instincts which we should pick up."
PM Lee added that, even after Covid-19, when masks are no longer essential or compulsory outdoors: "I hope that people will be conscious of it and if you are not well, please put on a mask to go outdoors.
"Now that we have all done it and we have gotten used to it, it does not feel so strange anymore."
PM Lee also expressed hopes that Japan will open up for tourism even wider soon.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday that Japan will accept leisure tourists, starting June 10, from 98 regions including the United States, China, South Korea and Singapore.
But they must be part of guided tour groups, where guides will carefully monitor their activities during the trip. No Covid-19 tests or quarantine will be needed for these tourists upon entry, regardless of their vaccination status.
This goes beyond an ongoing trial that involves 50 people in small group tours from the US, Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
PM Lee said that he had told Mr Kishida during their bilateral meeting on Thursday that many Singaporeans were "very anxious" to visit Japan for the food, skiing, scenery and religious tourism, and that flights would be full as and when Japan opens up.
Still, he noted that Mr Kishida might be wary of political implications, given that an Upper House election is slated for July 10.
A Mainichi newspaper survey last weekend found 43 per cent of respondents were in favour of relaxing border controls, while 41 per cent were against the idea.
PM Lee said: "The Japanese population has been very sensitive about Covid-19 cases going up. And there have been times during the last two years when they encouraged domestic tourism and that provoked some spread of the virus within the country.
"I'm sure they would not want to make any precipitated moves before (the election). But after that, if the Covid-19 situation is stable, I think there is a good chance that we will be able to resume the flow."