Govt recommends swift hospital discharge for mild COVID patients

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The building that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients whose symptoms are not expected to worsen will be discharged as early as four days after admission under a new government policy to strengthen countermeasures against the omicron coronavirus variant.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which announced the policy Tuesday, aims to prevent a shortage of COVID beds by encouraging hospitals to release patients earlier.

According to the government’s criteria, coronavirus patients are categorized into four stages in order of severity: severe (if a ventilator is required); moderate I and II (patients with pneumonia or breathing difficulties); and mild.

Under the new policy, patients who have not reached the moderate II level four days after admission will be encouraged to recuperate at government-provided accommodation facilities or return home.

The policy also recommends patients categorized as moderate I or mild to “proactively consider” transferring to a backup hospital.

Currently, hospital discharge is determined by doctors based on government criteria, under which COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms can be sent home if at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms and at least 72 hours have passed since their recovery, among other factors.

The government had been calling for hospitals to consider discharging patients within 10 days of the onset of the disease if their condition is mild. The new policy provides concrete guidelines to encourage early discharge, based on National Hospital Organization data released in January showing that only 0.9% of patients were classified as moderate II or severe four days after hospitalization.

However, the government has asked hospitals to be careful about elderly patients as they may become seriously ill even after four days.

The new policy also calls for boosting medical services at temporary healthcare centers, government-designated accommodation and elderly facilities to ensure that patients who are discharged early have somewhere to go.

When quasi-emergency measures are in place, the government will increase the subsidies for medical institutions that dispatch nurses and other staff to such facilities from ¥5,520 to ¥8,280 an hour per person.

The government also plans to expand the number of logistical support hospitals that accept patients after their condition has improved.

The new policy included a recommendation for children aged 2 and older to “wear masks as much as possible,” as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus at nurseries.

Under the policy, parents will not have to pay for substitute childcare centers that look after their children when their regular nurseries or other such facilities are closed for pandemic-related reasons, as the government plans to increase the subsidy for such services.

Workplace rollout to start Feb. 21

The workplace booster vaccination rollout will start on Feb. 21, Noriko Horiuchi, the minister in charge of promoting vaccinations, announced at a press conference Tuesday.

It was initially scheduled to start on Feb. 28, but some companies were able to start earlier than planned.

On Tuesday, Horiuchi met separately with Kenro Hori, chairman of the Japan Dental Association, and Nobuo Yamamoto, chairman of the Japan Pharmaceutical Association, and asked them to encourage dental patients and pharmacy customers to get vaccinated.