Govt eyes alternatives to reporting all COVID cases

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Health minister Katsunobu Kato speaks at a Diet committee meeting on Friday.

The government has indicated it intends to speed up a review of the pandemic-related regulation that requires physicians to report all new cases of coronavirus infection.

The plan was conveyed at a meeting on Friday of the Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare of the House of Representatives, which was held under the system that enables deliberations while the Diet is in recess.

The government also emphasized that in the process of making the necessary change, efforts will be made to ensure that the monitoring of the overall infection situation and the health of patients will not be hindered.

At the meeting, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato expressed the need to reduce the burden on medical institutions strained by the task of reporting all cases. “The number of infected patients is increasing and medical sites are in dire straits,” Kato told the committee.

Kato also explained that the purpose of reporting all cases was to determine the overall infection situation and to help in treating infected patients at high risk of developing serious illness. “How can we reduce the burden while maintaining that function?” he said. “We want to respond with a sense of urgency.”

The health ministry is considering several options, including “sentinel surveillance” in which only some medical institutions designated by local governments are required to report the occurrence of infections. Another is to target infection cases narrowed down according to the risk of developing serious illness and other factors. There is also a proposal to combine the two.

Under the Infectious Diseases Law, physicians who diagnose a new case of COVID-19 are required to notify local authorities. The report includes the name, address and other details about the patient, and the local government uses the data to monitor the patient’s condition, recommend hospitalization, issue requests for home care and identify close contacts.

If the government decides to halt the reporting of all cases, it will be necessary to devise new measures that enable local governments to identify patients with high risk of becoming seriously ill, monitor their health and provide necessary medical care.

From the perspective of preventing the spread of infection, stopping the notifications would make it difficult for local governments to identify close contacts. As such, the government needs to consider whether to continue requesting self-isolation for close contacts, and if it does, how to identify them would become an issue.

The government will have to deal with similar problems when it comes to hospitalizing or requesting home care for infected patients.