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Editorial: Better PR needed for Japan's workers compensation system in age of COVID-19

Japan has relaxed the criteria for workers compensation when health care professionals and other workers contract the coronavirus. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will, as a general rule, certify those eligible for the compensation even if the infection route is unknown, so long as they contracted the virus through work-related activities.

Generally, when such workers contract an infectious disease, their infection route needs to be identified to receive certification for workers compensation. But with the new coronavirus, some people show no symptoms when infected, and identifying the route of infection is difficult.

Thorough preparations are necessary for doctors and nurses who save people's lives as well as care workers who look after our elderly citizens so that they can feel safe doing their jobs. It is only natural for the government to proactively compensate such workers if they get infected.

Those who will be subject to the relaxed criteria include among them bus and taxi drivers, supermarket staff and childcare workers, and the change comes out of consideration for the fact that they frequently come in contact with an unspecified number of people at work.

Under the workers compensation system, when employees get injured or sick while at work, they will be provided with medical care benefits and compensation if they have to take time off work due to injury or illness, among other measures. Not only full-time permanent workers but also non-regular contract employees are covered under this system.

It has been more than four months since coronavirus infections started to spread in Japan, and the number of cases totals at least 18,000 nationwide, but applications for workers compensation remain low. A total of 433 applications had been filed by the end of June, but only 54 cases have been recognized as eligible.

We suspect that the application numbers are low because not many people know about the easing of the criteria. Though the health ministry has provided information via its website and elsewhere, that's not enough. Meanwhile, there must be those who work in the industries eligible for the relaxed standards but remain hesitant to apply as they are not certain if they themselves qualify. Consultation arrangements need to be expanded to provide answers to questions workers may have and also to mitigate concerns.

It is also important for the Japanese government to directly contact medical institutions where group infections have been confirmed to urge workers to apply for compensation.

Some citizens' groups are receiving inquiries from workers saying that they are having difficulties because their workplace is not cooperating with them even though they want to apply for the coronavirus compensation. When it is deemed difficult for the worker to file an application themselves, their employer is required by law to help them with application processes. The health ministry needs to firmly instruct businesses to cooperate with their employees to apply for compensation.

The workers compensation system needs to extend relief to those who need it so that the relaxing of the standards would not become meaningless.

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