Purpose of Change to Category V Must Be Explained Clearly

What are the benefits of revising the status of COVID-19 under the Infectious Diseases Law? The government needs to present the aim of the change to the public in an easy-to-understand manner.

Currently, novel coronavirus infection is classified under the law as a disease “equivalent to Category II” — as dangerous as tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has instructed relevant ministers to work toward lowering the status of the disease to “Category V,” the same level as seasonal flu. The change will reportedly be made this spring.

If COVID-19 is classified as Category V, there will no longer be any restrictions on social activities that can be officially called for by governors, such as urging people to refrain from going out, or limiting the number of people at dining establishments. The government said the full public funding of COVID-19 patients’ medical care will continue for the time being, but it will be phased out, after which patients’ will have to pay a portion of the cost.

The eighth wave of the pandemic is underway and a sharp rise in the number of deaths, mainly among elderly people, has become an issue. There have been a record-high number of cases in which ambulances have experienced problems with patient handovers. It must be said that the situation has become serious.

A road map must be drawn up for a smooth transition to avoid a surge in infections and deaths after the status is changed to Category V.

If COVID-19 is treated the same as seasonal flu, one of the advantages is said to be that patients will be able to receive treatment at any medical institution, easing pressure on the healthcare system. But will this be possible in reality?

In many cases, general medical institutions refused to treat COVID-19 patients and post-recovery patients who complained of long-term effects. Will the revision to Category V immediately change the mindset of personnel at medical institutions?

It may not be realistic to treat COVID-19 patients in the same wards as patients with other illnesses. COVID-19 patients should not be left without a place to seek treatment. The government must set up a medical treatment system.

In May, summit talks of the Group of Seven countries will be held in Hiroshima, and many dignitaries from those countries are scheduled to visit Japan. Some in the government are said to be hoping to improve Japan’s image by easing COVID-19 measures before the summit and making it unnecessary, in principle, to wear masks.

It is unacceptable if political intentions take priority over the actual infection situation and the medical system.

Regarding the relaxation of mask-wearing rules, many in Japan are cautious about a sudden shift. Flu is spreading and pollen season is approaching. Masks are a measure against COVID-19, but there are other benefits to wearing them.

Even if it is eventually necessary to change the legal status of COVID-19, the transition should be made carefully while considering the actual situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 21, 2023)