Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced a review of Japan's coronavirus control policy. Under the review, rules on "notifiable disease surveillance," or tracking and recording the conditions of infected individuals, can be simplified at prefectural governments' discretion.
The move is aimed at improving operations at medical institutions and public health centers, which have been under strain due to the explosive surge in case numbers amid Japan's seventh wave of infections.
However, the new policy is effectively leaving all the decision-making to local governments, instead of enforcing uniform measures throughout the country. We urge the national government to act carefully to avoid any confusion.
Currently, all new coronavirus cases in Japan must be reported. Under the new rules, these reports can be limited to patients at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, including elderly people and those with underlying conditions. For those outside this category, only the number of newly infected people by age will be reported. The tallying of all cases will continue.
Japan is shifting to a "living with the coronavirus" strategy, balancing infection control measures with promotion of social and economic activity. The latest move to simplify the case count, however, is a desperate effort to ease the burden on frontline workers.
Reports on new infections have up to now been made through the government's HER-SYS real-time information-sharing system. However, the system's enormous data entry load has put strain on workers examining patients and arranging for hospitals to take them.
Data collected through the disease surveillance protocols have been used to analyze the properties of infectious diseases and predict future outbreaks. Public health centers have monitored the health of all coronavirus patients based on HER-SYS information.
What is concerning is that patients could be overlooked even if they are at risk of developing severe COVID-19. There must not be any such cases.
Also at issue is how to follow up on those deemed at low risk for serious symptoms. People whose conditions have taken a sudden turn for the worse while recovering at home must be able to access treatment. It is also essential to make COVID-19 testing kits and drugs more available.
Under the new rules, coronavirus patients at low risk of severe disease and their close contacts will be beyond the reach of public health centers. The individual efforts of each citizen will count more than ever. It is imperative to keep the public thoroughly informed about self-isolating at home and other steps to prevent the spread of infections.
In the seventh wave, the government did not have adequate predictions or preparations, resulting in confusion due to a series of delayed responses.
As new infection numbers stay high, the government must quickly develop a system to effectively utilize the country's scarce medical resources.