Awareness Must Be Maintained to Prevent Infections

The classification of COVID-19 under the Infectious Diseases Law is being downgraded on Monday to “Category V,” the same level as seasonal influenza. This is an important step toward the normalization of socioeconomic activities.

The novel coronavirus had previously been classified as “equivalent to Category II” and people were subject to tight restrictions, which included hospitalization advisories. From now on, these restrictions will be removed, and infection control measures will essentially be based on individual efforts.

The total number of infections will no longer be determined by counting all reports from medical institutions; the figure will instead be estimated based on the number of patients at designated fixed-point medical institutions. All medical expenses, which used to be paid from the public coffers, will now be met by individual patients, in principle.

With the end of border control measures and the easing of restrictions in Japan, the flow of people in and out of the country is increasing. This is a welcome development for society.

However, the shift to Category V does not mean that the spread has abated. Recently, the number of infected people has been increasing. There are predictions that a large-scale “ninth wave” will arrive. The central and local governments need to continue to keep a close eye on the situation.

In case the virus spreads again, the government has announced a plan to have about 8,300 medical institutions ready to accept up to 57,600 patients for hospitalization by the end of September. It has also announced a policy of not allowing medical institutions to refuse medical treatment on the grounds that a patient is suffering from COVID-19.

The question, however, is whether the plan will proceed accordingly. Public funding for securing hospital beds has been reduced, and hospitals that have been accepting COVID-19 patients have been reducing the number of beds they have available. It is hoped that other hospitals will accept more COVID-19 patients, but there is a great deal of anxiety because they are not accustomed to accepting such patients.

This is due to fears over nosocomial infections and labor shortages. Many medical institutions are also reluctant to provide outpatient care on the grounds that they cannot keep COVID-19 patients separate from other patients in the course of treatment. Such medical institutions are urged to devise ways to accept COVID-19 patients while consulting with local medical associations.

It is also important to provide opportunities for such medical institutions to gain know-how from medical institutions that are accustomed to dealing with COVID-19 patients. One method might be to begin accepting outpatients at specific times and on specific days of the week, and gradually becoming acclimated.

Individual efforts are indispensable for coexistence with COVID-19.

In a survey conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan government, more than 70% of all respondents stated that they would continue to wear masks and wash their hands frequently, even after the shift to Category V. However, less than 40% of respondents planned to wear masks when visiting elderly care facilities.

Considerations for protecting people at high risk of developing serious symptoms with COVID-19, such as elderly individuals and people with underlying health conditions, will continue to be necessary. The importance of this aspect must be reaffirmed anew.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2023)