People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk on a street in Tokyo Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) Photo: AP/File
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Japan to lower COVID-19 to flu status in spring

35 Comments
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday announced plans to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 to the equivalent of seasonal influenza in the spring, a move that would further relax mask wearing and other preventive measures as the country seeks to return to normalcy.

Kishida said he has instructed experts and government officials to discuss the details on lowering COVID-19's status. A change would also remove self-isolation rules and other anti-virus requirements and allow COVID-19 patients to seek treatment at any hospital instead of only specialized facilities.

“In order to return to our ordinary daily life in Japan while pursuing measures to adapt to living with the coronavirus, we will study concrete measures to gradually move on to a next step," Kishida said.

In Japan, COVID-19 is currently categorized as a Class 2 disease, along with SARS and tuberculosis, and is subject to restricting movements of patients and their close contacts, while allowing central and local governments to issue emergency measures. Downgrading it to Class 5 would mean scrapping those rules.

The planned change would mark a major turning point in Japan's COVID-19 policy toward normalizing social and economic activities.

The move, however, comes as Japan faces widespread infections and record levels of deaths in what is considered its eighth wave of outbreak since the pandemic began three years ago.

According to the Health Ministry, daily deaths totaled a record high of 503 last Saturday. Experts say the latest increase could be linked to worsening chronic illnesses among older patients.

Downgrading the legal status of COVID-19 under the infectious disease law could remove ongoing hospitalization and self-isolation rules and help to free up hospital beds reserved for COVID-19 patients, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

The idea is to create a system where COVID-19 can be treated as part of ordinary medical services, he said. But he cautioned: “Changing its classification doesn't mean coronavirus is gone. We still need everyone to take voluntary measures by using masks and precautions.”

Kato said mask wearing is unnecessary outdoors now and that indoor use would also be eased once the downgrade is in place.

Kato said it will require some adjustments for people, workplaces, municipalities and hospitals, and declined to set an exact timeline, other than to say it would occur in “the spring.”

Details are still being worked out but the cost of COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations are expected to still be covered by the government for now.

Japan last fall stopped requiring COVID-19 tests for entrants who had at least three shots — part of the country’s careful easing of measures after virtually closing its borders to foreign tourists for about two years.

Japan is now reporting known daily cases of between 100,000 and 200,000.

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35 Comments

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Hooray! Time to celebrate - hanami maybe?

10 ( +24 / -14 )

About time. I came to this realization years ago.

9 ( +32 / -23 )

Excellent news.

Vaccines and masks have proven to have been very effective, and no heavy-hand restrictions were necessary.

Well done Japan for the long-term plan from the beginning.

-21 ( +17 / -38 )

What am I going to do with my stock of thousands of masks?

-7 ( +17 / -24 )

More than a year begins the rest of the world. Covid is here to stay. Japan is still getting over 100,000 every day despite the restrictions. Other countries homage proven that lifting the restrictions does not necessarily increase new cases.

-5 ( +16 / -21 )

Why wait?

People who actually want to wear masks can, people who want to get the jab can get it at their own expense, so why inconvenience everyone else for no good reason?

3 ( +19 / -16 )

Downgrading classification will also lead to a decrease in new cases here in Japan because reporting requirements will be relaxed also and testing won't be free anymore

14 ( +22 / -8 )

No more masks. Can't wait!

11 ( +27 / -16 )

Vaccines and masks have proven to have been very effective

Vaccines, maybe.

Masks, no way.

Hospitals would have absolutely no reason to turn away (for instance) an 80-year-old woman who, while recovering from a mild COVID case at home, falls and breaks her hip.

Why would any hospital have to turn her away, if everyone involved (her, the ambulance crew, the doctors & nurses, other patients) are all wearing the (ahem) very effective Almighty Masks.

Plus, if either one of them (vaccines or masks) is very effective, there's no need for both of them.

Most of the rest of the world has been done with the face-diapers for quite some time now. Japan should have ditched them months ago. They don't work.

-6 ( +18 / -24 )

What am I going to do with my stock of thousands of masks?

Save them for Pandemic 2.0. It's coming soon.

2 ( +18 / -16 )

Downgrading classification will also lead to a decrease in new cases here in Japan because reporting requirements will be relaxed also and testing won't be free anymore

As of late last year it was very hard to get tested in Japan. The numbers as far as infections is way higher than those reported. Though if one was seriously ill, as in having trouble breathing, the treatment is probably first class.

-10 ( +6 / -16 )

No more masks. Can't wait!

Just take them off now mate. No need to wait. Now or in Spring, what's the difference? Today was a lovely crisp day actually. The crisp winter air is sublime.

5 ( +18 / -13 )

No more masks. Can't wait!

You think everyone will magically remove their masks indoors? They still wear them outside despite no requirement.

10 ( +19 / -9 )

Not sure it will make a lot of difference, to be honest. I think that workplaces and businesses will continue to ask people to wear masks and stay at home if they have cold symptoms etc. It will carry on like that well beyond the status change in spring in my opinion. Just like there was no change to masking outdoors when the government said it was no longer necessary, I don't think we'll see much change in the spring.

8 ( +15 / -7 )

Domestic Covid19 deaths per infection "wave" at Japan continue to be increased, present 8th wave is worst ever.

But Government doesn't anything to prevent deaths at all, repeat shameful but dangerous situation that virus test or medical services fall into insufficient soon in Japan.

Handful power person can get PCR test or medical services or hospitalization soon in Japan.

Present LDP Kishida regime of Japan who spends huge taxes for national security but dislike to use money for social security looks like even exploit Covid19 to reduce social weaks such as elderly people or disabled people.

-10 ( +9 / -19 )

After all that nonsense preventing foreigners from entering Japan....what a waste of absolute time and energy.

Rubbish Japan.

But I applaud this move, nonetheless. As Fighto says though, mask use won't change at all.

-1 ( +18 / -19 )

Great news !!! Common sense prevails !!

-9 ( +12 / -21 )

After all the repression around the world related to deadly covid for the last two years, from now on it will be less dangerous than the flu?

Who's kidding who here?

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

After all the repression around the world related to deadly covid for the last two years, from now on it will be less dangerous than the flu?

Who's kidding who here?

The one who told you that is probably kidding you. Who told you it will be less dangerous?

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

As of late last year it was very hard to get tested in Japan

I'm in Japan, that is simply not true lol

12 ( +18 / -6 )

Why would any hospital have to turn her away, if everyone involved (her, the ambulance crew, the doctors & nurses, other patients) are all wearing the (ahem) very effective Almighty Masks.

You're still struggling with that question? You've been thinking about that for a long while now.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

What am I going to do with my stock of thousands of masks?

So it was you who bought up all those surplus Abenomasks? ;) No worries, the mask wearers here ain't going anywhere.

Japan is still getting over 100,000 every day despite the restrictions. Other countries homage proven that lifting the restrictions does not necessarily increase new cases.

Spot on Lindsay.

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

No masks indoors? Here’s how it’ll go.

If not closer than 1 meter distance with ventilation. No vents 2 meters and so on. It won’t be you can just take’em off.

I’ll eat my English textbooks if the mask wearing gets dropped!!

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Way too late. Obviously.

Remove them from kids asap.

Far more unmasked inside that outside. Ridiculously.

-1 ( +10 / -11 )

I have it from a hospital professional that a recent patient with Covid was turned away from

as many as 18 hospitals-the health system in Japan is broken…

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Well. For those sick of everyone wearing masks, even if the "requirements" get dropped, kafuncho's just around the corner. Just saying.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Vaccines? Maybe

Masks? Maybe

etc etc…

why do we all fight over all these?

Common sense? Absolutely.

i am still not vaxxed. I have been using masks when I think it is necessary and this had been the case before this pandemic, ie when I was allergic to the environment or when I was sneezing or coughing (which rarely happened. Keep your hands reasonably clean and keep a healthy balanced lifestyle … all these help. I won’t get any vax until am comfortable with it. I was vaxxed for the seasonal flu though. Once every year around mid Nov.

0 ( +10 / -10 )

Japan is still getting over 100,000 every day despite the restrictions

There are no restrictions. It's all "urges" . There is no obligation to follow any of the "urges" either. Just do what you want to do.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

superb. Now hurry up. Also drop the silly vaccine requirement to expedite arrival.

-4 ( +9 / -13 )

Kids should take them off now!

4 ( +12 / -8 )

All right. It's "just the flu" now, as many in this comment section have been arguing. You win, guys.

But don't people die of the flu as well? Wasn't that the point of Covid deniers from the beginning? Flu deaths really looked dramatic in the first stages of the pandemic to you. Why the sudden change in tone? Isn't it still responsible to not spread a disease like the flu and take precautions to protect yourself and others?

Oh, and it's not "just the flu". The cough is something completely different, it stays in your system way longer and can cause other health issues. This information has been out there for almost three years now and looking up any statistic (outside of Facebook, Twitter or even less moderated platforms) will show you the numbers, i.e., infections and deaths worldwide, are completely different.

But given how the comment section has decided virusrex is a part of a conspiracy and take each others confirmation as "evidence", I guess anything's up for debate now. It would be a little bit less depressing if I hadn't recently been seeing this tendency so much irl as well.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

I have not worn mask working in the office. Not while I am out and about like jogging or to and from station. I do wear masks when in public transportation and at concerts etc..We have entertained guests at home too… Our guests are vaxxed and got COVID at least once. We are not.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Good, cautious move, much better than the Chinese jerk who did an about-face with no preparations while opening its borders for travelers to bring the 9th surge to rest of the world. Notwithstanding imperfections and even failures, Japan is a civilized country.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Great News, now lets get back to normal and have a LIFE.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

The move, however, comes as Japan faces widespread infections and record levels of deaths in what is considered its eighth wave of outbreak since the pandemic began three years ago.

Right, the best way to tackle a major problem, is to reclassify it as a non-problem. (This could solve the problem or crimes as well, lower the status of murder to equal jaywalking, and crimes are gone! Moderator: this is an analogy, so please do not censor this as out-of-topic.)

2 ( +4 / -2 )

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