TOKYO: The Tokyo Medical Association is attracting attention for its recent proposal to review rules for children to wear face masks as a precaution against the novel coronavirus.
Behind the proposal is the association’s concern over effects on children’s development from wearing masks, with one doctor saying that masks make it difficult to read facial expressions, leading to, among other things, an increase in fights between children.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has urged the Japanese government to show a unified view on the issue.
While more than two years have passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the central government informed local authorities across the country in February that it is not uniformly asking for the use of masks for children at nurseries. Especially, the state said that it does not recommend masks for children aged under 2.
But some local government officials complained that the central government notification is difficult to understand.
On Tuesday, the Tokyo Medical Association proposed that people take off their masks outdoors if they can keep a distance from others, noting specifically that the use of masks may not be not necessary when nursery and kindergarten kids play outside as well as during physical exercise classes and club activities at school, and leisure activities in the mountains and sea.
Especially for children, the association called for the standards for wearing masks to be eased in stages toward this summer.
Fights between children in lower grades at elementary school and younger children have increased as they have had to continue wearing masks for a long period amid the pandemic, pediatric doctor Kazue Kawakami, a senior official of the medical association and expert on measures to protect children from infectious diseases, said, noting that masks make it difficult to understand emotions such as delight, anger, sorrow and pleasure.
On top of masks, strict restrictions on activities have caused the morale of children to fall.
According to Kawakami, marching band activities at an elementary school in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward had been suspended due to the spread of the coronavirus. The activities were resumed later, but many children hesitated to blow horns strongly for fear of getting infected with the virus, Kawakami said.
At a children’s sumo competition held in Tokyo’ Sumida Ward on May 7, the ward office had some 250 participants take COVID-19 antigen tests at the event venue. After they tested negative for the virus, the ward office told the children that they did not need to wear face masks in the competition.
But only 20 percent of them opted not to wear masks.
“Parents seem to remain very afraid” of letting their children take off their masks, an official at the ward’s health office said.
“Many people in the country are very interested (in the mask issue),” Koike said at a press conference Friday, urging the central government to “release information on related scientific findings and how we should use masks to effectively fight the virus in a unified way.”