The government’s COVID-19 subcommittee on Friday approved a plan to allow the lifting of quasi-emergency measures as long as health care systems are not overwhelmed, even if daily case counts remain high.
The criteria will include occupancy rates for hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients and other factors that could contribute to straining health care systems.
Quasi-emergency measures can also be lifted under the plan if new cases are declining and the hospital bed occupancy rate for virus patients is over 50%. At present, the measures can be lifted if daily cases are declining, the hospital bed occupancy rates for all COVID-19 patients as well as severe virus patients are below 50%, and the number of patients recovering at home is on the decline.
“The important point is to restore social and economic activities but make sure to decrease the numbers of severely ill patients,” said Shigeru Omi, chairman of the subcommittee.
The move comes as quasi-emergency measures in place in 18 prefectures, including Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi, are set to expire on March 21.
Omi cited three reasons for the revision:
- Many younger people such as students have been restricted from having in-person learning experiences, which in turn is affecting them mentally, leading to a rise in suicide cases and people suffering from depression.
- A majority of those infected only experience mild symptoms.
- Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, a majority of the population has been vaccinated, and treatment drugs are available.
But Omi warned that the revisions will be made under the assumption that the government is taking necessary measures such as promoting the vaccination rollout and ensuring that nursing care facilities — which house high-risk elderly patients — are taking preventive measures.
“If we want to resume social and economic activities, we need to do what needs to be done,” he said.
The subcommittee also agreed to lift the maximum cap for large events — currently set at 20,000 — held in regions under quasi-emergency.
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