Japan Panel Discusses Revising Plan for Next Pandemic; Membership Cut to 15 for Swifter Decision-Making

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Economic revitalization minister Shigeyuki Goto, second from left, speaks as Takashi Igarashi, president of the National Center for Child Health and Development, left, listens at a meeting of a government panel at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday.

The government on Monday held a meeting of a panel of experts and launched discussions on revising its action plan in preparation for the next pandemic.

The meeting of the panel for discussing measures against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases was held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

Based on the lessons of the novel coronavirus crisis, the government plans to study how to provide medical services, among other measures, and aims to revise the plan around next summer.

This was the first time for the panel to meet since COVID-19 was recategorized as Category V under the Infectious Diseases Law, putting it on par with seasonal flu. Panel members confirmed that they will compile an interim report on main items and others for the revision around December and draw up a draft revision around June next year.

Among issues to be discussed at the panel are how to provide medical services and procure supplies. Attendees also brought up issues including the enhancement of research and development activities, and cooperation between the national and local governments.

“We would like to discuss how to strike a balance between preventing the spread of infections and maintaining social and economic activities, including basic views on such efforts,” said Takashi Igarashi, president of the National Center for Child Health and Development, after the meeting. Igarashi was selected as the chair of the panel from among the panel members.

The panel previously had 35 members, providing advice to the government mainly through four subcommittees. On Friday, the government abolished the subcommittees. According to economic revitalization minister Shigeyuki Goto, this move was to enable comprehensive discussions from a panoramic perspective.

It also cut back the number of panel members to 15 to more swiftly coordinate opinions.

New panel members include a university professor in macroeconomics, representatives of labor and management, and a local government leader, in addition to six medical experts, including Igarashi.

During the pandemic, regarding the easing of restrictions on movement, there were visible instances of discrepancies between the experts’ opinions and the government’s measures.

“There was no clear distinction between the experts and the government in terms of their roles. I hope the panel will clarify its roles to draw up appropriate policies,” said former panel member Kiyosu Taniguchi, director of the Mie National Hospital.