• 2022.10.28
  • The Move Away from Mandating Mask-wearing
A decree mandating mask-wearing indoors and outdoors came into force in Spain on the last day of March last year, but it was revised in April this year, and the obligation to wear a mask was lifted except for public transport, medical facilities, and aged care facilities. Nevertheless, Spain is one of the stricter countries when it comes to mask wearing, compared to other European countries.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the mask-wearing mandates when using public transport in European countries. Only 7 countries are maintaining a mandate: Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Greece, and Cyprus. As for the other countries, Denmark heads a list of 13 countries that lifted the mandate already in August last year. And mask-wearing is not mandated but recommended in 9 countries including the UK, Sweden, and Lithuania. Austria has had an unusual approach to mask-wearing whereby there is no national mandate, but the city of Vienna is providing the exception and is mandating it within the city.

Unlike Japan, there is no mask-wearing custom among the general public in Spain, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, you almost never saw people wearing them except in hospitals, construction sites, food and chemical factories, and so on. Wearing a mask must be quite a lot more stressful for Spaniards, who are not used to wearing them, than for Japanese people, for whom mask wearing has been an ordinary part of daily life. I think the large majority of Spaniards probably never would have worn a mask in their entire life if it were not for this pandemic. On that basis, there was nothing for it but to make it mandatory, so that people would actually wear a mask, and conversely, I understand the feeling of those who all wanted to take their masks off once the mandate was lifted. But the cumulative figures in Spain as of October 7th were 13,441,941 infections and 114,468 deaths, so the situation is still touch and go, it needs to be managed very carefully, and the mandate cannot be completely lifted soon.

Watching video of the funeral of Her Majesty the Queen of the UK I saw almost no one wearing a mask, whether indoors or outdoors, and not just among the attendees, but also the public watching. There was an almost perfect sea of masks in video of the state funeral in Japan held 8 days later, a difference that surprised even the overseas media. I don’t know for sure whether that was the reason or not but the policy of the Prime Minister in a plenary session of the Japanese House of Councillors in regard to any move away from mandating mask wearing was “We are progressing initiatives in step with the world on the basis of scientific findings.” I wonder if “in step with the world” means they will monitor the situations in other countries and consider the ways European countries are managing things, as I mentioned above.

According to a survey of Japanese people’s opinions about when the mandate on mask wearing should be relaxed, most (48.5%) said “When we have specific drugs,” while the 2nd ranked reply (39.2%) was “Once there are fewer infections,” and the 3rd ranked reply (30.3%) was “Once the national government says so.” Meanwhile, for its part, the national government cannot legally mandate mask wearing, so it seems that all it can do is ask you to make a decision about whether to wear a mask or not, based on whether you are indoors or outdoors, whether you are talking with people or not, whether you are keeping less than or more than 2 meters apart, and whether you are an adult, child, or baby, as a recommended rule. They are not specifying certain places, for example, medical facilities or public transport, which highlights another difference from European countries, right.

Photo 1

So, if the Japanese government took the decisive step and went ahead with a move away from mandating mask-wearing, the quantity of masks used would decrease, which would also alleviate the problem of environmental pollution from used non-woven fabric masks. At any rate, in Japan’s local governments, they are currently asking that people dispose of them as burnable garbage, from the viewpoint of preventing the spread of infection, regardless of the fact that most non-woven fabric masks are items made of petroleum-derived plastics like polypropylene, polyethylene, polyurethane, and polyester. Now, 129 billion non-woven fabric masks are being used every month across the world*, in Japan they are disposed of as burnable garbage, emitting CO2, and discarded masks have also become a source of marine pollution. And while environmentally friendly measures are moving ahead, such as charging for plastic bags at checkouts and using biodegradable materials for supermarket food trays and coffee shop straws, for its part, the government is recommending non-woven fabric masks as a basic measure against COVID-19, so maybe not wearing non-woven fabric masks will help turn the situation around as we charge ahead with global warming. Photo 1 shows an example of the materials used in non-woven fabric masks.

Once again, my article has strayed from a topic about Spain, and I have stuck my nose into current affairs in my native country.
It is my homeland that I think about from afar.
*: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c02178#


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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