Govt should make most use of experience with coronavirus pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, there have been many cases in which excessive government regulations hampered the availability of testing and treatment for COVID-19. It is hoped that the government will carry out regulatory reform by taking advantage of its reflections on such cases.

The government’s Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform has compiled a report for this year. The council proposes easing regulations on about 330 items in fields such as medical and nursing care, digitization and the cultivation of startups.

Preparedness for COVID-19 testing was not sufficient in the early days of the pandemic. Even after an antigen qualitative test kit was developed to test for infection, doctors’ orders were needed to use the test kits, so they were not readily available. Last autumn, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry allowed drugstores to sell such test kits as an exception.

The report calls for ensuring that pharmacies can sell these test kits on a permanent basis.

There is great peace of mind in being able to purchase testing instruments in familiar places. In Western countries, such test kits can be bought online as well. The risk of damage to people’s health is low if they simply collect saliva and conduct the tests themselves. In light of this, the council’s proposal is reasonable.

The health ministry has been cautious about such products being sold online due to insufficient explanations about how to use them, as well as concerns over a supply shortage. Why doesn’t the ministry consider a system that will enable consumers to buy such products with peace of mind?

Regulations in health care have been established with priority given to the lives and health of the people. While ensuring safety is a matter of course, it is also important to expand the options and enhance convenience to meet the needs of society.

Regarding COVID-19 test kits, products with uncertain accuracy that were claimed to be for “research purposes” have spread through the market. Merely introducing regulations is not enough to provide reassurance. The government should strengthen its monitoring, so that preventive measures can be taken in line with the actual distribution conditions.

Online medical care has now been allowed, including for first consultations. In the report, the council calls for promoting the active use of online medical services at locations, such as day care facilities for the elderly, in order to expand the use of such services among the elderly.

With the help of nursing care workers, even those who are unfamiliar with smartphones and other digital devices are likely to find it easier to receive online medical care.

As for in-home medical care, the council called for making it possible for pharmacists to undertake tasks that nurses normally perform, such as changing intravenous drips and applying ointment.

This proposal may have been made to address a serious shortage of nurses, but it seems excessive to allow pharmacists to take on duties directly involving patients’ care. Instead, it is reasonable to secure nurses, so the top priority should be placed on creating an environment conducive for them to work by assisting nurses who have left work to have children or for other reasons to find new employment.

The easing of regulations is aimed at revitalizing the economy by minimizing government involvement. However, approaching this the wrong way could lead to social distortions and disparities. It is hoped that the government will consider the balance between market principles and regulations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 6, 2022)