Japan on Monday relaxed its guidance on wearing masks as a prevention measure against covid-19.
In most situations, deciding whether to wear a mask is up to the individual.
The change occurred three years after Japan passed a law on special measures against the new coronavirus, which allowed the government to declare a state of emergency.
Still, by 8 am Monday, trains in Tokyo were packed with passengers wearing masks of various shapes and colors.
Only a few scattered naked faces could be seen as passengers exited stations and entered business districts.
“I think I’ll keep a mask on when it’s crowded. I don’t want to make people around me uncomfortable,” said a 38-year-old man wearing a suit and a white surgical mask.
Two 17-year-olds were equally cautious.
“No, we’re not taking them off,” one said.
“We’ve gotten used to them; they’re part of our lives now.”
One acknowledged the inconvenience of wearing masks during exercise but said she feared being infected.
Mask-wearing in Japan was never legally required, but it was strongly recommended, and many establishments insisted on it.
Unlike most countries, masks were standard even before the pandemic to prevent the spread of colds or to minimize hay fever symptoms.
On Monday, a maskless prime minister, Fumio Kishida, told reporters that the government’s new stance “does not force individuals to put on or take off” their masks.
“There will be more occasions to take off my mask.”
The premier acknowledged the need to avoid confusion.
“We ask that they be worn in situations where ventilation is difficult or where they will be in contact with people at high risk of serious illness, such as when visiting nursing homes.”
Before Monday, the government had already removed the advice to wear masks outdoors.
However, mask-wearing was still recommended indoors, except where people could keep a safe distance and avoid close conversations.
Many facilities and services – including rail operator JR East, convenience stores like 7-Eleven, and fast-food chains like McDonald’s Japan – are making it optional for customers to wear masks. At the same time, employees are still required or recommended.
The operator of Tokyo Disney Resort recently announced that mask-wearing would be optional for park visitors and employees starting Monday.
At the same time, the company wants visitors to follow staff instructions when taking pictures with park characters, whether outdoors or indoors.
Regardless of what the companies do, many people seem likely to continue using it.
Some still fear a virus that continues to infect about 10,000 people a day in Japan, with dozens of daily deaths reported, despite the sense that the pandemic is losing intensity.
Others may have a different reason: allergies.
As temperatures rise in the spring, allergic reactions such as itchy eyes and sneezing, caused mainly by cedar pollen, affect many citizens.
The number of pollen-bearing flowers the Ministry of Environment counted in November and December was the highest in 10 years in large regions such as Kanto, near Tokyo, and Kinki, near Kyoto and Osaka.
This suggests that pollen dispersal will be extremely high this year.
“I have allergies, so that’s one reason to keep wearing the mask,” said a 47-year-old man on Monday.
“I will see how others are acting and decide accordingly.”
In a voluntary survey of more than 80,000 citizens on Yahoo Japan’s website through Friday, 46.5% of respondents said they would continue to wear masks – in some cases to relieve hay fever.
Only 27.1% said they would not wear masks, while 26.1% said it would depend on the location.
With information fro Valor Econômico