COVID-19 different from seasonal flu, health panel warns

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato, foreground, addresses a meeting of a COVID-19 advisory body alongside panel head Takaji Wakita in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Key members of a health ministry advisory body indicated Wednesday that COVID-19 has different characteristics to seasonal influenza, a view that could shape the government’s decision on whether to review the classification of the novel coronavirus and how the virus is handled.

A risk assessment report completed by the panel stated that, although the overall severity of COVID-19 cases has declined since the omicron variant become dominant, the virus has become more transmissible and is becoming an infectious disease with different characteristics from the flu.

The report also pointed to the necessity of reviewing measures implemented to combat the virus because it is vital to “keep in mind the impact that restrictions on people’s movements have on society and the economy.”

The government has been considering reclassifying COVID-19 under the Infectious Disease Control Law from its current level equivalent of Category II to a Category V disease, the same level as seasonal influenza. Discussions on this possible downgrade will be based on the latest assessment report.

“The time to rebuild our coronavirus response system into an optimal form is approaching,” said Takaji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and head of the advisory panel to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. “This assessment will become the foundation to take this issue into further consideration.”