March 14, 2023
TOKYO – The nation took a major step toward normalcy Monday with the easing of COVID-19-related guidelines that leaves the decision to wear a mask or not down to individuals. Many companies and public transportation operators also eased their mask-wearing policies, but it will likely take time for people to become adjusted to going mask-free after three years of covering up.
On Monday morning, a large number of employees of the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry — the government department responsible for COVID-19 measures — arrived sans mask at the ministry office in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo. At the ministry’s Personnel Division, about half of the staff abstained from face coverings.
The ministry informed staff of the policy change via email, saying, “The choice of each employee will be respected, and the decision [on mask-wearing] will be left to individuals.”
Nevertheless, the government continues to recommend wearing a mask at medical institutions and on crowded trains and buses.
“Just as in the pre-pandemic era, mask-wearing is now a matter of personal choice,” said Satoshi Takebayashi, 53, head of the ministry’s Personnel Division. “This is a memorable day as we move into the post-pandemic era. It’s hoped that people can wear or remove their masks freely without worrying about the opinions of superiors or others around them.”
Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, previously required visitors to wear masks in principle, but from Monday, allowed people to choose for themselves.
On the day, most people continued to wear a mask, but some opted to go mask-free. An 18-year-old high school student visiting the park from Osaka Prefecture with eight of her classmates, said “It’s more fun because I can see my friends’ facial expressions.”
At Haneda Airport in Ota Ward, Tokyo, posters urging people to wear masks were removed Sunday night.
At the airport’s Terminal 2, All Nippon Airways Co. staffers replaced “please wear masks” posters at security checkpoints with notices regarding boarding procedures.
On Monday, ANA stopped making announcements asking passengers to wear masks on planes and at airports. The company plans to gradually remove partitions installed at counters and other locations in order to prevent droplet infections, while continuing to offer disinfectant solutions in public spaces.
An ANA official said passenger opinion had been mixed before the guideline change, with some saying they did not want to wear masks, while others called on the company to urge caution for those who were not searing masks.
“I don’t think many people will suddenly stop wearing masks, but to prevent trouble, we’ll respect the thoughts of our customers and employees,” said Kotaro Hisazawa, 55, chief of the company’s CX Strategy Department.