TOKYO: The laughter and cheers at Tokyo Disneyland can be loud on Monday (March 13) when the amusement park and much of Japan relax the mask rules that have defined three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Park operator Disney Oriental, Japan Eastern Railway and film operator Toho are among the top companies allowing patrons to wear masks starting Monday, according to a government review announced last month.
But the speed of the change in behavior is unlikely, given Japan’s long history of wearing it and the pollen that gave people hay fever during one of the worst spring seasons in years.
“Wearing masks was part of our culture before COVID-19,” said Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor at Tohoku University and an architect of Japan’s response to COVID-19. “I think people are wearing a lot of masks even after the rules are relaxed.”
Japan is one of the last major economies to relax official government regulations on coatings, the use of which has been almost universal throughout the country, even without strong regulations or sanctions governing their use.
South Korea will cut most of its indoor mask requirements in January, while Singapore allowed public transport last month. The United States and England stopped most of the mask orders in the first year.
Japan has already eased rules on individuals, allowing individual speeches in parliament and allowing schools to decide whether to require graduation ceremonies this month.
The government’s top spokesman, Hirokazu Matsuno, said last week that masks would no longer be required at Monday’s cabinet meetings and that decisions on masks would be left to individual workplaces. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to take masks out with them and to be flexible even as the regulations eased.
Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination is over 80 percent and cases have declined since the eighth wave of infections that peaked in early January.
Health experts in Japan have pointed to the widespread use of masks along with strict hygiene and social distancing for the relatively low number of covid-19 deaths in the country.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, one of the most prominent voices among Japan’s pandemic response experts, said voluntary masks on public transport and in other spaces could continue to protect against infections.
“That could be incorporated as part of the daily routine,” he said. “The government decided at this time that the project was launched.”