Japan to Lower COVID-19 Classification as Planned May 8

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Japanese health minister Katsunobu Kato on Thursday formally decided to downgrade the classification of COVID-19 under the infectious disease law to Category V, the same as for seasonal flu, as planned on May 8.

The minister made the decision after a health ministry panel at its meeting the same day said no special circumstances that may change the underlying scientific assumptions, such as the emergence of a strain with a high rate of causing severe symptoms, have been confirmed.

Also on Thursday, the health ministry announced a plan about the country’s health care system after the classification change. The plan calls on some 8,400 medical institutions to have the combined capacity of accepting up to a total of 58,000 COVID-19 inpatients by the end of September.

Regarding the current state of the novel coronavirus, Kato said in a press conference that comparisons with omicron subvariants indicate there is no need to worry about an increase in public health risks.

“While we’ll be entering a new phase (regarding COVID-19 measures), we want to continue to take necessary steps by obtaining people’s understanding and cooperation,” the minister added.

At a separate press conference the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, “We’ll be shifting from a system in which COVID-19 measures are based on government requests to a system respecting individuals’ choices and voluntary efforts.”

In January, the Japanese government decided on a policy of lowering the COVID-19 classification from Category II, the second highest in the country’s five-tier infectious disease classification system, to Category V on May 8, the first business day after the country’s Golden Week holiday period from this weekend.

At Thursday’s panel meeting, no member opposed the classification change. One member said the state of the country’s health care system needs to be checked occasionally after the change, and another member said it will continue to be important to take measures to prevent cluster infections from occurring at elderly facilities.

With the category shift, the government will no longer call on COVID-19 patients and their close contacts to refrain from going out, letting them decide whether to stay home. The ministry currently recommends that COVID-19 carriers stay home for five days after the day they developed related symptoms.

The government will start charging out-of-pocket fees for outpatient treatment and COVID-19 testing.

Daily announcements of new COVID-19 cases will be ended. COVID-19 reports will be simplified to weekly announcements based on information from designated medical institutions.