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Japan gov't asks people to take off masks outdoors to avoid heatstroke, keep 2m apart

People exercise with masks on at Ohori Park in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward, on May 24, 2020. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

TOKYO -- The Japanese environment and health ministries on May 26 released a guide calling on people to keep their masks off outside to avoid heatstroke in hot, humid weather, while keeping at least 2 meters from others to lessen the chance of infection with the novel coronavirus.

The guide for a "new lifestyle," a collection of government advice and requests regarding everyday measures to prevent coronavirus infections, also asks people to avoid hard physical work or exercise while wearing masks, also to avoid heatstroke.

According to the Ministry of Environment, the danger of heatstroke increases when wearing a mask as the heart and respiratory rates rise and that puts stress on the body. The guide also recommends people control indoor humidity with ventilation fans or opening windows, and to hydrate frequently.

During Japan's last serious heatwave in 2018, about 95,000 people were taken to hospital by ambulance in a five-month span. Thought the government is calling for people to practice the "new lifestyle" including social distancing and wearing masks, there is a risk that a spike in ambulance calls for heatstroke could put increased pressure on medical facilities already hard-pressed by the coronavirus pandemic, and also lead to more viral infections.

(Japanese original by Mayumi Nobuta, Science & Environment News Department)

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