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Japan to expand COVID countermeasures

Visitors wearing protective face masks walk on a pedestrian deck, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

On Tuesday, Japan is scheduled to increase the number of areas subject to strengthened coronavirus controls, even as it seeks to alter measures to combat the infectious Omicron form, which has resulted in record numbers of cases.

The news: A government health panel approved the expansion of stronger countermeasures in 18 other regions, including Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan.

  • The actions were taken in response to an upsurge in Omicron-related illnesses and hospitalizations. According to a calculation by national broadcaster NHK, Japan had almost 44,000 new cases on Monday.
  • The restrictions will be in place from Thursday to February 20, giving regional governors the authority to force restaurants and bars to reduce their hours and stop serving alcohol.
  • The increase, which has already been declared in 16 prefectures, implies that the measures will eventually cover more than 70 per cent of Japan’s regions until the middle of next month.
  • The advisory panel also agreed to extend quasi-emergency measures in three regions until February 20.
  • Later on Tuesday, a government commission chaired by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to formally ratify the decisions.

What they’re saying: If local governments think it essential, the health ministry stated late Monday that doctors will be able to diagnose persons who have had intimate contact with a COVID patient and show COVID symptoms as infected without testing.

  • According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the new policy will allow patients to receive rapid diagnostics and treatment under the direction of the community, depending on the infection status there.
  • “We’re presenting a policy to expand the options available to patients, such as combining tests before visiting medical institutions,” he said.
  • Even under the current guideline, anyone at high risk of falling critically ill from COVID-19 should consult a doctor, he said.
  • Managing COVID-19 without a laboratory test confirmation is similar to how doctors fight influenza in areas where “the community burden is high”, said Kazuaki Jindai, a physician and researcher at Tohoku University.
  • “The important thing is that some people will get sick eventually and we need to have a good monitoring system to make sure that they are safe. Not only by providing them hospitalization but also access to new oral medications.”

During a legislative debate, Kishida stated that the government will evaluate scientific facts when contemplating shorter quarantines for persons who had had intimate contact with COVID-19 patients.

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