The Japanese government is considering dropping its recommendation that people wear face masks at school graduation and entrance ceremonies this spring after assessing the risk of infection with COVID-19 at such events to be low, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.
A decision will likely be made early this month based on an assessment by experts, the person said, as Japan seeks to normalize its public health measures toward pre-pandemic levels after fighting the virus for over three years.
The government is already planning to reclassify the novel coronavirus to the same medical category as common infectious diseases such as seasonal influenza from May 8, paving the way for further relaxing preventative measures.
Decisions over whether to wear a face mask, indoors and outdoors, will be left to individuals.
Lawmakers have called for the easing of rules around mask-wearing at schools ahead of the reclassification, taking into consideration that students graduating from junior and senior high schools this spring have spent their three years under COVID-19 restrictions.
While Japan never had an official mandate requiring face masks to be worn, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's "hygiene management manual" for elementary to senior high schools recommends that participants of entrance and graduation ceremonies wear masks as part of anti-coronavirus measures.
The government believes that the risk of infection is low since such ceremonies involve little conversation among students, meaning wearing one will be considered unnecessary, the person familiar with the matter said. No one will be forced to remove their face mask, however.
School children have worn masks under the ministry's guidelines that recommend doing so when it is difficult to keep sufficient distance from others indoors.
Japanese education minister Keiko Nagaoka said Thursday she expects that students will be allowed to attend their graduation ceremonies, typically held in March, without face masks, but also said it would ultimately be for each family to decide.