Japan Plans to Downgrade COVID-19 to ‘Seasonal Flu’ Status, Evolve From Pandemic-Era Mandates

By Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.
January 21, 2023Updated: January 21, 2023

Japan intends to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 from a Class 2 disease to a Class 5 this spring, a decision that is expected to result in a major change in pandemic restrictions, with the government also planning to ease face mask rules.

“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,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Friday, according to AP. The government intends to “gradually” change the measures in place. Kishida indicated that his administration will review face mask rules as well.

COVID-19 is currently classified as “equivalent to a Class 2” disease in Japan and, as such, is subject to strict measures like restrictions on the movement of infected individuals as well as their close contacts. Such steps are stricter than other Class 2 infectious diseases like SARS and tuberculosis.

In recent weeks, the number of daily COVID-19 infections has fallen. However, Japan still sees roughly 100,000 new infections on a daily basis.

Once the classification of COVID-19 is downgraded, it will remove self-isolation rules and other requirements and enable people infected with COVID-19 to seek treatment at any hospital rather than having to visit specialized facilities.

Changing Pandemic-Era Regulations

Under current rules, Tokyo can order people to be hospitalized if they are suspected of having COVID-19. Infected individuals also have to report their health status if the government requests them to do so.

Once COVID-19 is moved to Class 5, it will be treated the same way as seasonal influenza, and quarantine rules will be eliminated.

According to health minister Katsunobu Kato, the reclassification to Class 5 will ease the strain on the healthcare system as more hospitals and clinics will be able cater to COVID-19 patients. However, the reclassification will also mean that individuals will have more personal responsibility, he noted.

“With the categorization change, we will move from a system where the government intervenes when people test positive to one where people will take necessary action themselves, just like they do now when they contract seasonal flu,” Kato said, according to The Japan Times. “That would be the big change. The fundamental need to respond to the disease will remain unchanged.”

At present, Japan recommends the use of face masks indoors, the only exception being when people maintain a distance of two meters from each other. When outdoors, people are encouraged to wear masks when among a crowd.

Kato said that the administration will soon begin discussions on relaxing the mask rules. However, “we have yet to nail down the specifics.”

The change in COVID-19 classification might also mean that foreigners are allowed to enter Japan without taking a PCR test or submitting to quarantine.

Chinese Visitors

At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that the government will review border controls for visitors. However, he expressed apprehension about lifting restrictions on visitors from China which is seeing a surge in infections. Tokyo will monitor China’s infection situation and discuss how to deal with Chinese visitors.

Based on estimates cited by the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times, the COVID-19 pandemic and the CCP’s “zero-COVID” measures have brought about hundreds of millions of deaths in China.

Japan has been slow in removing COVID-19 restrictions compared to other industrialized nations. In the United States, most pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

In Britain, where border controls have also been lifted, such restrictions were removed in February last year. In South Korea, the government intends to soon do away with its mask mandate for indoor places.

Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.