Photo/Illutration Foreign passengers arrive at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Oct. 11 when entry restrictions on foreigners were greatly relaxed. (AP Photo)

The easing or even elmination of mask-wearing rules in many overseas countries has raised concerns that foreign tourists may not follow mask-wearing guidelines in Japan.

In Japan, the government’s guidelines on mask-wearing have also been relaxed, but most people, especially on public transportation, still wear the protective coverings.

The health ministry’s current guidelines encourage people to wear face masks indoors and during close conversations.

But the masks are not needed if the distance between the talkers is at least 2 meters and they are outdoors, according to the guidelines. If the conversation is kept to a minimum, the eased measure on masks can apply indoors.

On Oct. 11, when border controls were eased to allow individual foreign tourists to enter Japan, health minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference that the current focus should be on spreading knowledge about the existing guidelines rather than considering new measures.

Concerns have also been raised about whether some areas of Japan will be able to handle any foreign tourist who becomes ill.

Some locations in Japan do not have adequate COVID-19 testing facilities or medical institutions that are prepared to treat foreign tourists.

The central government is also now compiling a list of consultation centers that foreign tourists can call if they fall ill in Japan.

Rentaro Oda, a doctor who heads the infectious diseases internal medicine department at Tokyo Bay Urayasu Ichikawa Medical Center in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, said his facility was forced to treat feverish tourists from the Hokuriku and Tokai regions this summer.

While he said some easing of movement restrictions was inevitable, he added that infection-prevention measures could not be relaxed in hospitals where many people at high risk of developing serious symptoms come for treatment.

Atsuo Hamada, a specially appointed professor of travel medicine at Tokyo Medical University, said there was a need for a flexible response.

He suggested the government review the relaxed conditions and travel subsidy program if signs strongly indicate a new wave of infections.

But pinpointing such trends might now be harder because the government no longer requires local medical workers to report and count all infection cases.

(This article was written by Hiromi Kumai and Mirei Jinguji.)