Virus: Japan government eases rules on mask wearing outdoors

Staff members from the Hoshinoya Tokyo hotel demonstrate the "Lantern Dining Experience", where lanterns made by Kojima Shoten – a shop in Kyoto – are used to shroud diners for mask-free dining amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, during a media event at the hotel in Tokyo on Feb 28, 2022. (PHILIP FONG / AFP)

ISLAMABAD / SINGAPORE / HANOI / NEW DELHI /CANBERRA / TOKYO – Japan's top government spokesman said Wednesday that the wearing of facial masks or coverings worn in a bid to limit the transmission of the COVID-19 virus would no longer be necessary as long as people maintain proper social distancing measures.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, as the mercury and humidity rise in Japan, masks will not be required to be worn outside as the risk of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses could be increased

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, as the mercury and humidity rise in Japan, masks will not be required to be worn outside as the risk of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses could be increased.

"We recommend that people take off their masks outside as long as sufficient distance is maintained, especially when temperatures and humidity are high," Matsuno was quoted as telling a press briefing on the matter.

"Experts say high-risk behavior, such as talking to people in close proximity without masks, should be avoided. Proper mask-wearing is necessary if you cannot maintain enough distance with others outside and talk with them," Matsuno added.

Japan's top government spokesperson highlighted the fact that the government's review of its antiviral measures will continue as will the monitoring of the country's COVID-19 infection rate in twine with virologists and medical experts.

With some other major economies also scrapping rules, or mandates on mask wearing amid declining numbers of new COVID-19 infections, Japan's easing of mask-wearing comes as the government is also planning to raise the cap on new arrivals per day from overseas to 20,000 people per day in June.

Japan's government is arranging to double the cap on arrivals from overseas to 20,000 people per day in June, with quarantine measures for new arrivals currently under review.

Following the quarantine review related to airports' systems and pending the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in Japan following the Golden Week string of national holidays here, which ended last Sunday, the easing is expected to be green-lit, local accounts said.

Small-scale trial tours comprising overseas visitors may be go into effect as early as this month, government sources were quoted as saying, with the number of visitors being granted access expanded in stages.

As Japan was experiencing a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, in late November, a ban on non-resident foreign nationals was imposed.

The lengthy ban, the strictest among Group of Seven countries, however, was heavily criticized by institutions and business lobbies.

The strict border controls were thereafter eased in phases, with business people, students, Japanese nationals returning from overseas and foreign residents allowed to enter, although the restriction remained in place for tourists.

The daily cap on foreign arrivals was raised from 3,500 first imposed in November to 5,000. On March 1, it was lifted to 7,000 and on March 14. The cap at 10,000 has been in place since April 10.

Staff check a client at a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia on Jan 8, 2022. (MARK BAKER / AP)


Australia has reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections in about a month.

More than 57,000 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded across Australia on Wednesday with 51 deaths – 17 in Victoria, 11 in New South Wales, 10 in Queensland, eight in South Australia, three in Western Australia and two in the Australian Capital Territory.

It marks the biggest number of new cases reported in a day since early April and takes Australia's coronavirus death toll past 7,600.

According to data from the Department of Health, there were 3,168 cases being treated in hospitals around the country as of Tuesday, including 123 in intensive care units.


India's COVID-19 tally rose to 43,110,586 on Wednesday, with 2,897 new cases registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.

Of the new cases, 1,118 were reported in Delhi. Presently there are 5,471 active cases in the national capital.

Besides, 54 deaths across the country due to the pandemic recorded since Tuesday morning took the total death toll to 524,157.

Currently there are 19,494 active COVID-19 cases registered in the South Asian country, an increase of 143 in the past 24 hours.

So far 42,566,935 COVID-19 patients have been successfully cured and discharged from hospitals in India, including 2,986 newly reported recoveries. 

A health worker prepares to inoculate a student with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a school in Karachi on Feb 14, 2022.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the detection of Omicron sub-variant BA.2.12.1 of COVID-19 in the country and ordered immediate restoration of the National Command and Operation Center, the Prime Minister's Office said on Tuesday.

Pakistan's National Institute of Health on Monday announced the detection of the first case of Omicron sub-variant BA.2.12.1 in the country

The prime minister directed Pakistan's Ministry of Health to provide a detailed report on the current COVID-19 situation in the country, the office said in a statement.

Pakistan closed NCOC, a department formulating policies and supervising their implementation in the national fight against COVID-19, at the end of March following a persistent decline in new cases and fatalities.

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The NCOC was established in March 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic in the country to collate, analyze and process the pandemic information received from across the country and take measures accordingly.

Pakistan's National Institute of Health on Monday announced the detection of the first case of Omicron sub-variant BA.2.12.1 in the country. 


Singapore reported 4,831 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 1,225,024.

Of the new cases, 410 cases were detected through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 4,421 through ART (antigen rapid test) tests, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.

Among the PCR cases, 394 were local transmissions and 16 were imported cases. Among the ART cases with mild symptoms and assessed to be of low risk, there were 4,225 local transmissions and 196 imported cases, respectively.

A total of 263 cases are currently warded in hospitals, with six cases in intensive care units.

Four more patients have died from complications due to COVID-19 infection, taking the death toll to 1,356, the ministry said.

A man passes walks past a billboard on the coronavirus in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec 4, 2021. (NHAC NGUYEN / AFP)


Vietnam reported 2,855 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, up 679 from Monday, according to its Ministry of Health.

Among the new infections, only one was imported and the rest were domestically transmitted in 52 provinces and cities.

The Vietnamese capital Hanoi remained the epidemic hotspot with 577 new cases on Tuesday, followed by the northern provinces of Phu Tho with 230 and Vinh Phuc with 156.

The infections brought the total tally to 10,681,214 with 43,058 deaths. Nationwide, as many as 9,324,934 COVID-19 patients, or more than 87 percent of the infections, have so far recovered.

More than 215.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country, including nearly 196.6 million shots on people aged 18 and above, said the ministry.

Vietnam has by far gone through four coronavirus waves of increasing scale, complication, and infectivity. As of Tuesday, it has registered nearly 10.7 million locally transmitted COVID-19 cases since the start of the current wave in April 2021, said the health ministry.