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Japan gov't to review state of emergency exit standard, emphasize medical system status

The National Diet building in Tokyo is seen in the bottom half of this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to review the standards for lifting the coronavirus state of emergency under the communicable disease special measures law, and consider shifting more emphasis to the medical system.

    As the vaccine rollout accelerates and the rate of patients developing severe symptoms decreases, the government is considering switching the most important criterion for exiting the emergency declaration from the number of new infections to health care system sustainability indicators, such as hospital bed availability.

    Based on discussions by experts, the government aims to reach a conclusion by Sept. 12, when the current state of emergency declaration issued for 13 prefectures including Tokyo is scheduled to be lifted.

    On the standards for doing that, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told an Aug. 18 press conference, "Many more people will receive the vaccine. Based on changes such as the strengthening of the medical system, we will have experts hold concrete discussions and the government will also consider reviewing the criteria."

    At a press conference on the evening of Aug. 17, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, "The precondition for lifting the declaration is to secure the health care system. We will analyze the inoculation situation, the number of severely ill patients, the number of occupied hospital beds and other factors to make an appropriate decision."

    To this point, the government has based its emergency declarations primarily on whether a prefecture has seen 25 or more new infections per 100,000 of population during the most recent week -- also known as Stage 4 and indicative of an explosive transmission rate -- among other factors including the status of the medical system and the positive virus test rate.

    But the progress in inoculations has reduced the severe illness rate, and the situation is changing. Although the number of new infections continues to rise to new highs, there are some areas where the medical system is holding up relatively well.

    A senior official at the prime minister's office pointed out, "The relationship between the number of new infections and the hospital bed occupancy rate is different than it used to be. The important thing is to protect the health and lives of the people, and it's possible that we will focus on hospital beds in the future."

    Shigeru Omi, head of the government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee, mentioned at an Aug. 17 press conference, "Vaccines have clearly proven effective in preventing people from developing severe symptoms. The number of new infections is important, but there should be more emphasis on how much pressure the medical system is under, such as the number of seriously ill patients and the number of hospitalized people."

    Ahead of reviewing the standards, the government is also mulling adding as new criteria the "number of people awaiting hospitalization" among those recovering at home or special accommodations.

    (Japanese original by Akiko Kato and Aoi Hanazawa, Political News Department)

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