The central government decided Friday to drastically ease COVID-19 guidelines on mask-wearing on March 13, including for public transportation and schools, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeks to relax public health measures for economic and social activities.

Under the new guidelines, passengers will only be recommended to wear face masks on trains and buses during rush hour or other occasions when public transport is especially congested, while students will not be requested to use them during school activities.

The decision comes amid the government's downgrading of the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as common infectious diseases like seasonal flu on May 8, in a major policy shift in its response to the outbreak that began in early 2020.