• Coronavirus

Japan Eyes Plan to Penalize Coronavirus Patients who Refuse to be Hospitalized

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry advisory committee on Friday largely approved a draft plan to revise the infectious diseases law to penalize coronavirus patients who refuse to be hospitalized.

Under the plan presented during a health ministry subcommittee meeting on the day, the governor of each prefecture would be able to order the hospitalization of infected patients who do not comply with requests to undergo home or overnight treatment, and penalties would be imposed on infected patients who do not comply with hospitalization orders or cooperate in behavioral history investigations conducted by health authorities.

However, no details of the penalties were presented at the meeting.

The ministry is considering imposing prison terms of up to 1 year or a fine of up to ¥1 million on coronavirus patients who refuse to be hospitalized, and fines of up to ¥500,000 on those who refuse to cooperate in investigations, sources said. In both cases, criminal punishments would remain as a criminal record.

The current infectious diseases law imposes terms of 2 years to life imprisonment or a fine of up to ¥10 million on infected patients who spread dangerous pathogens, and a criminal penalty of up to 6 months or a fine of up to ¥500,000 on those who do not comply with requests to report their health condition. Currently, there is no penalty for refusing to be hospitalized or refusing to cooperate in investigations.

While many subcommittee members were in favor of penal provisions, there were also cautious views expressed at the meeting. Some members said penalties would be a severe restriction on human rights and that the effectiveness of penalties was not clear.

In response to such concerns, a health ministry official said there had been few cases in which penalties had been applied immediately, and asked for understanding, claiming that the measures would make infection control more effective.

The draft also calls for allowing the health minister and prefectural governors to encourage medical institutions to secure hospital beds. Hospitals that do not comply with calls to secure beds risk having their names disclosed under the revision.

The government plans to submit a bill to revise the infectious diseases law to the ordinary Diet session to be convened on Monday and pass the bill in early February.