Japan plans to increase hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients by the end of November to accommodate more than 35,000 people, up 30 percent compared to the level amid a virus resurgence this summer, the government said Wednesday.
The government measures to combat COVID-19, which will be finalized on Friday, also include plans to provide coronavirus vaccines for children under the age of 12. In the event of another wave of infections, free tests will be conducted for asymptomatic cases.
During the peak of the nation's fifth wave of infections this summer, around 28,000 people needed to be hospitalized.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference after launching his second Cabinet that he aims to increase facilities for those suffering from mild symptoms.
Ahead of a possible new wave of infections, he described the orally-administered COVID treatment drug developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. as the "trump card" in efforts to stem the pandemic and said, "We aim to put into use the oral drug within this year."
Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said separately that the government has agreed with Merck on the procurement of 1.6 million doses.
Also on Wednesday, a Japanese health ministry panel approved the administration of third booster shots of U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 18 and over, starting with medical personnel from December.
The move came following studies that show antibodies that protect against the disease decrease over time.
From December, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will release the bed occupancy ratio at each medical institution every month. Hospitals are required to input such data into the ministry's system if they hope to receive government subsidies.
In the event a coronavirus variant three times more contagious than an existing strain spreads in Japan, the central government will urge areas not severely affected to dispatch medical personnel to support areas where infections surge.
It will also request events to be canceled and eateries to temporarily close, in addition to urging operators to reduce transportation services and people to refrain from going out to curb infections.