Action Plan on Infectious Diseases: Effectiveness of Countermeasures Is at Stake

The failures seen during the COVID-19 pandemic will be repeated if an action plan is not properly implemented, no matter how thorough the plan is. The effectiveness of the plan needs to be enhanced by government entities and medical institutions working together.

The government has drawn up a draft revised action plan that covers measures to deal with a pandemic involving new types of influenza and other illness. The revised plan is expected to be approved by the end of June after soliciting opinions from the public. The overhaul will be the first time the action plan has been revised since it was formulated in 2013.

In May last year, COVID-19 was recategorized as Class 5 under the Infectious Diseases Law, and the pandemic is getting under control. The nation must prepare for a future crisis by resolving each of the issues that came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current action plan was drawn up based on an outbreak of a new type of influenza that occurred in 2009. It called for strengthening the system for PCR testing and vaccine development. However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became evident that the government was not sufficiently prepared.

It must be said that the government underestimated the degree of crisis which can be caused by an infectious disease.

In addition to six items including information gathering and medical care, which are specified in the current plan, the new plan lists seven additional items. These include border-control measures, vaccines, therapeutic drugs and testing.

Specifically, the new plan includes calls for securing facilities at airports and other locations for quarantining people entering Japan in advance; stockpiling supplies such as masks and testing kits; and staffing personnel at public health centers. It is important for the government to secure sufficient funding for various measures.

Infectious diseases could repeatedly break out over several years.

It is important to take a balanced approach, for example, by making the utmost effort to contain viruses in the early stages of an epidemic and securing medical care and hospital beds in the later stages. It is hoped that a system will be built to enable the government and experts to closely communicate.

Concern remains over securing an adequate medical care system.

The revised Infectious Diseases Law, which came into effect in April, requires public medical institutions to secure hospital beds and provide treatment for outpatients who have a fever. On the other hand, the revised law calls for private medical institutions, which are exempt from such requirements, to provide medical services after reaching an agreement in advance with their local prefectural governor.

With such legal revisions, the government has set a goal of securing 51,000 hospital beds in the event of the spread of infection. However, the number of beds that can be secured is currently estimated to stand at about 60% of the target.

The level of medical care in Japan had been said to be among the highest in the world. However, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fact that the nation has few specialists in infectious diseases and that the system to provide medical care is also insufficient.

In addition to nurturing specialists, it is also crucial for the government to expand and improve training against infectious diseases for general medical practitioners at hospitals, private practice doctors and nurses.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2024)