Japan not to restrict people’s movement during 8th COVID-19 wave

NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS
A computer image shows a model structurally representative to COVID-19.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The Japanese government has no plans to restrict people’s movement if and when the country is hit simultaneously by an eighth wave of COVID-19 infections and an outbreak of seasonal influenza this winter, officials said.

Instead, the government plans to ensure that sufficient medical care services, including an accelerated rollout of vaccines, are provided.

If the possible eighth wave is similar to the omicron variant in terms of infectiousness, “we

won’t introduce new movement restrictions,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference Wednesday. “We’ll take precautions while keeping the economy open,” he said.

New COVID-19 infection cases have been rising across the country recently. Some prefectures, mainly in the country’s east, have reported week-on-week increases of over 1.5-fold.

“A large-scale, nationwide outbreak is possible,” Matsuno said. Health minister Katsunobu Kato separately said that “there could be an eighth wave.”

Japan did not experience a seasonal flu outbreak in the past two years due to COVID-19-related restrictions on people’s movement. Government officials are concerned that resulting reduced immunity could lead to a simultaneous outbreak of COVID-19 and flu this winter.

If the simultaneous outbreak occurs, the government predicts that the country may see up to around 450,000 new COVID-19 cases and 300,000 new flu cases per day. Experts warn that Japan’s outpatient care system would collapse.

The health ministry has asked prefectural governments to take steps to strengthen their systems for outpatient services this month, including the active use of telemedicine.

The central government plans to limit outpatient services offered to people with fevers to the elderly and children at the height of a double outbreak. It is asking people to buy antigen testing kits and fever and pain relievers.

The government hopes that COVID-19 vaccines targeting omicron variants will help prevent a spike in infection cases. But only less than 10 pct of the country’s population have received such shots so far. “We hope that that even young people will consider getting their shots this year,” Kato said.