Photo/Illutration Health minister Shigeyuki Goto addresses a news conference at a government building in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district on June 21 following a Cabinet meeting. (Mirei Jinguji)

Japans health ministry is urging the public to remove face masks when they are outdoors, especially during summer when there is an increased risk of heatstroke.

“Unless they are having close conversations, we urge people to remove their face masks if they are commuting to work or school on foot or by bicycle, or when they are walking, running or doing radio gymnastics and other exercises,” health minister Shigeyuki Goto told a news conference June 21 following a Cabinet meeting.

The ministry released guidelines in May on when to wear them and situations when it is better to remove the masks, but the vast majority of people continue to keep them on outdoors.

Goto noted that around 40,000 to 50,000 people are rushed by ambulance to hospitals each year with heatstroke, and that some cases are so severe they result in death.

He urged people to remove masks when exercising as a number of students were taken to a hospital this year with heatstroke symptoms after they fell ill during outdoor physical activities at school.

“We urge people to avoid the excessive heat by using air conditioning (when they are indoors) as well as taking measures to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus by using fans and staying in well ventilated areas,” Goto said.

“It is not necessary to wear masks (indoors) if people maintain social distancing and dont talk too much,” he added.

The guidelines state that people do not need to wear masks indoors as long as they maintain a distance of 2 meters or more from others and keep conversation to a minimum.