TOKYO – The rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has prompted a change of course by the administration led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans Tuesday to expedite the COVID-19 booster rollout and expand treatment services offered to patients at home or at recuperation facilities under the government’s basic policy against the omicron variant.
“[The omicron variant] seems to have a higher transmissibility, but also is less likely to cause serious symptoms,” Kishida said to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office. “But if the infection spreads rapidly among the elderly, the percentage of people who become seriously ill could increase.”
Conscious of the fact that a deterioration in the pandemic situation would be a major blow to his administration, Kishida announced measures that shift the focus from containment to expanding at-home care services to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Care services for people who are mildly ill or asymptomatic will also be strengthened.
Hospital bed occupancy in Japan, which rose from 20% on Jan. 4 to 40% on Jan. 10, is approaching 50%, a yardstick for such measures as a state of emergency declaration.
A total of 16,073 hospitals in Japan are ready to treat COVID-19 patients at home or in lodging facilities in the event of a surge in infection cases, the health ministry said Wednesday. The figure was up over 30 pct from around 12,000 as of the end of November. The increase comes as the ministry aims to secure medical treatment for patients staying home while preventing shortages of hospital beds, especially when the omicron variant is on the rise.
“We’ll continue to act swiftly so that people can recover without worries even amid a rapid spread,” health minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters, referring to the variant that is spreading across Japan at an unprecedented pace.
To prevent medical facilities from being overwhelmed, providing at-home care services and designated accommodation facilities for recuperating patients will be key.
Health centers continue to check in with the patients, and if their condition worsens, they will arrange hospitalization.
To lessen the burden on public health centers, the government has developed a system under which local medical institutions will share the responsibility of monitoring patients who are recuperating at home.
Although a plan announced in December stated 12,000 institutions had been signed up, on Tuesday, Kishida stressed that 16,000 would be sharing the load.
Health centers had also been responsible for investigating the source of infections. Going forward, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to only investigate the source of infections linked to facilities for people at risk of becoming seriously ill, such as elderly care homes, medical institutions.