Photo/Illutration Commuters wear face masks in Osaka’s Kita Ward on the morning of Oct. 1, 2021, the day the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted. (Jin Nishioka)

Anti-virus face masks are not necessary outdoors among people who maintain a proper distance from others or who are only with family members, an expert panel advising the health ministry said May 19.

Such situations include strolling in a park, jogging or riding a bicycle, according to the panel on novel coronavirus countermeasures.

The panel also urged the government to consider dropping its recommendation that preschool children aged 2 or older wear face masks to prevent infections.

The panel said if these children do use masks, they shouldn’t wear them for long hours.

The government will consider the panel’s proposals and decide on its face mask policies and recommendations ahead of the summer season, when wearing masks can heighten the risk of heatstroke.

Although the nationwide number of new infections has decreased, a senior official of the health ministry said the number of COVID-19 patients remains high.

“It is difficult to immediately and significantly relax the government’s recommendations on wearing face masks,” the official said. “We will carefully communicate to the public about this issue.”

The main topic of the panel’s latest talks was to define situations where the risk of infection does not increase even if people are maskless.

Seventeen experts, including Shigeru Omi, representative director of the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association, and Koji Wada, a professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare, put together the proposals, which were approved at the panel’s meeting on May 19.

The proposals said that basic measures to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading are important, but the public is increasingly expecting an easing of those measures.

Elementary schools should instruct their pupils not to wear face masks on their way to and from school if they are at risk of heatstroke, according to the proposals. But the children should be instructed to keep a distance from others and refrain from talking.

The panel also suggested that students do not need to wear face masks when they are outdoors during lessons or breaks, or when they are taking swimming lessons.