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News Navigator: Is there a legal basis for Japan's anti-coronavirus mask policy?

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The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's anti-coronavirus mask policy and its legal basis.

    Question: It seems that the Japanese government is considering reviewing the situation where wearing masks is recommended, but what is the current policy?

    Answer: In principle, people are not required to wear masks outdoors, but are recommended to wear them indoors. However, even outdoors, if you cannot maintain a distance from others and are having a conversation, wearing a mask is recommended. And even indoors, in situations where you can maintain a distance from others without holding a conversation, such as reading in a library, it is not necessary to wear a mask.

    Q: Is there a legal basis for such a policy?

    A: The coronavirus countermeasures are implemented based on the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response. One of the government policies stipulating specific countermeasures includes a recommendation to wear masks appropriately. Based on this, the government has announced scenarios where it recommends the use of masks, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno referred to it as "the rule of wearing masks" during press conferences.

    Q: Is that mask-wearing rule legally binding?

    A: There is no provision in the special measures law requiring the wearing of masks. It only recommends that they be worn to prevent the spread of infections. On the other hand, the Act on the Prevention of Infectious Diseases and Medical Care for Patients with Infectious Diseases states that it is the responsibility of citizens to take the necessary precautions to prevent infectious diseases, even if it does not specifically indicate the use of masks.

    Q: What happens after downgrading the status of the coronavirus under Japan's infectious disease control law to "Class 5," or the same level as seasonal influenza?

    A: Once it becomes Class 5, the coronavirus is no longer covered by the special measures law, and there is no legal basis to call for the wearing of masks under this law. It is not clear on what legal basis the government will make the call regarding masks after the downgrade.

    Regarding the issue of mask requirements, the government policy states, "We do not require wearing them as a rule, but respect the individual's subjective choice and leave it to the individual's own judgment." The government has been calling on people not to be forced to wear or remove their masks against their will, but it is likely that there will be more situations in the future where the individual's way of thinking will be respected.

    (Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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