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Unmask-querade: Anonymous organizers planning Japan-wide 'no-mask picnic day'

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TOKYO -- Anonymous organizers are promoting a "nationwide simultaneous no-mask picnic day" for May 1 and 2 in apparent defiance of coronavirus pandemic safety measures, prompting a swift and severe backlash on Twitter and worried comments from municipalities mentioned as potential picnic spots.

    Under the slogan, "In 2021, let's bring back the smiles from 2019," a dedicated website run by parties unknown is encouraging people to "meet and connect with likeminded people, breathe fresh air, smile together with uncovered faces and have some fun beneath the one sky over all Japan."

    At one point, the site named 17 picnic locations: three in Tokyo, two in Fukuoka Prefecture and one each in Akita, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures. Each spot had a local organizer's Twitter account listed along with it. However, the picnic spot list and contact information was taken off the site on the night of April 19.

    There are also reports that a no-mask picnic has already been held once, in the city of Osaka on April 11.

    The Japanese language hashtag for "nationwide simultaneous no-mask picnic day" is also prominent on Twitter, with many users slamming the idea and warning others not to go to any of the parks initially listed on the website on May 1 and 2, in the middle of Japan's "Golden Week" holiday period.

    Critical posts included, "There are signs at parks saying you have to wear a mask. This is nothing but breaking the rules," "Don't make unnecessary work for medical facilities by doing something so pointless," "With things as they are now, what are you thinking?" and, "This is really rude to people who are seriously practicing self-restraint and health care workers."

    This screenshot shows a website promoting the "nationwide simultaneous no-mask picnic day."

    Another user tweeted, "My mother's immune system is weak because of her treatment, so when I find out where this thing is going to be held, I'll have to warn her not to go there on that day. She fought hard to overcome her illness, but since she is physically weak she would be in danger if she contracts the virus."

    Municipal governments that had been listed as maskless picnic spots are also crying foul.

    Sakatagaike Sogo Park in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, is one of those spots. The city near Tokyo is not currently under coronavirus quasi-emergency measures, but parts of Chiba Prefecture will be starting on April 20. If the picnic goes ahead, it's possible some participants will come from outside the city.

    "It's common sense that a no-mask gathering is unthinkable at this time," commented city health promotion department head Masakazu Kadoi. "I don't really know who is organizing this or why, but it's quite scary, coming as it does while the city is striving to implement anti-infection measures."

    According to the city of Osaka, where Osaka Castle Park has been named a picnic spot, it is receiving a steady stream of calls from concerned citizens and people related to other parks.

    "We only heard about this a short time ago, so we will listen to what's going on and discuss a response," a city representative said.

    (Japanese original by Masakazu Yui, Digital News Center)

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