During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021, most of the world's countries mandated the use of surgical-type masks in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. As of April 2022, the emergence of COVID-19 vaccinnes (as well as increased availability of treatment) has enabled many countries to relax their mask mandates. However, the situation is still in flux, with mandates often lifted or reinstated on a day-to-day basis as cases surge or wane in a given country or new COVID-19 variants emerge.
While mask mandates and restrictions had started to relax in China in late 2021, the Omicron variant caused a resurgence in both COVID-19 cases and the addendant restrictions that accompany them in early 2022. China has a zero-COVID policy. As of April 2022, masks are required to be worn at all times when leaving the home, mandatory testing and quarantine centers have been reopened, and many schools and non-essential businesses have been temporarily closed again.
Although there is no legal mask mandate covering the entire country of Japan, there are strong recommendations to wear a mask in public. Compared to other countries, vaccinations in Japan have been slow to roll out to the public. For the most part, people have followed the government's recommendations, and many private businesses require masks for customers. Because many locations are allowed to determine their own mandates on masks, some outbreaks have occurred. The Omicron surge in late 2021/early 2022 convinced several prefectures to institute restrictions on some businesses, especially bars and eateries, but those restrictions have since been lifted.
While Germany had seemed at times to have much of the virus under control, mask mandates and restrictions tightened in January 2021. Face coverings or masks were required at all shops, offices, and hairdressers. Cloth masks were deemed no longer acceptable, and people were required to wear medical-grade masks. Indoor locations and public transportation required a mask, and people could be fined for failing to follow the rules. Although masks were not required in outdoor settings where social distancing was possible. As of April 2022, many of these restrictions have been lifted, with masks required only in stores and on public transport.
With more than 92% of its population of 67+ million people vaccinated, France chose to lift the majority of its COVID-19 restrictions in March 2022. Masks were still required on public transportation and in health care facilities, but not in restaurants, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and other public places.
Wearing a mask both indoors and outside was mandated in Italy throughout much of the pandemic. However, as the vaccination rate increased and the country gained confidence in its health care network's ability to combat the virus, restrictions have been gradually eased. A requirement to wear masks outdoors in public spaces was lifted in February 2022, and the government is expected to lift most or all remaining mask requirements and other COVID-related restrictions by mid-June 2022. However, government officials have explicitly stated that plans could change as new data and/or disease cases emerge.
South Korea has mandated mask-wearing in both indoor and outdoor public locations since the beginning of the pandemic. However, in light of the current vaccination reates and relatively low virus prevalence, the South Korean government announced in April 2022 that it would be lifting all social distancing rules. Many analysts view the relaxation of mask mandates as the next logical step. The government has stated it will review its rules on outdoor mask wearing after a two-week trial period, which would place the decision sometime in early May 2022, but added that indoor mask requirements would be "unavoidable for a considerable time."