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Japan gov't to review masks for preschoolers over development impact worries

The prime minister's office is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is considering reviewing its mask advisory for preschoolers, originally implemented in response to the spread of the coronavirus's omicron strain.

    The move comes after experts expressed concerns about the impact of wearing masks on children's development over the course of the prolonged pandemic. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will make the final decision on the matter.

    As for elementary school students and other older children, the government plans to continue recommending mask-wearing for now in situations where the infection risk is high, as the omicron strain continues to be prevalent.

    Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the government has widely required masks as part of infection control measures, but had not done so for preschoolers. However, it revised its policy in February in response to the emergence of the highly infectious omicron strain and the sharp increase in the number of children infected.

    The revised basic response policy, which defines measures against the coronavirus, recommends that children aged 2 years and older in day care centers and other facilities be encouraged to wear masks to the extent possible for the time being, if their developmental status allows. It is not recommended for children under 2 years old.

    Regarding masks for preschoolers, observers have pointed to rising heatstroke risks as summer approaches, as well as a potential impact on child development including language acquisition, as it becomes difficult to read the facial expressions of others.

    Volunteers from an expert organization that advises the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare on coronavirus countermeasures are set to propose a review of mask-wearing by children soon. The government is also considering not requiring preschool children to wear masks, indoors or outdoors.

    The Tokyo Medical Association also proposed this month that children in the lower grades of primary school or younger not wear masks outdoors.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department; Tsumuki Nakamura, Political News Department)

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