Japan began Monday to simplify its coronavirus reporting system by targeting elderly and high-risk people in a bid to reduce the administrative burden on hospitals and local health centers.
The new system will not require medical facilities to report details such as names and addresses of younger people with milder symptoms that have made up around 80 percent of the country's COVID-19 cases since the Omicron strain drove numbers sharply higher and stretched the medical system thin.
The government will continue to oblige health facilities to report the number of people who test positive for the virus each day by age group in an attempt to monitor the spread of COVID-19.
The measure, which places focus on the provision of appropriate medical care to the elderly and others at risk of developing severe symptoms, reflects the government's policy shift as it moves to transition the nation toward living with the coronavirus.
Health minister Katsunobu Kato said that some municipalities which introduced the system prior to Monday have expressed concerns about being unable to contact those not included in the reporting, saying it prevents them from responding swiftly to such patients when their symptoms become serious.
"We would like to keep in close contact with local governments and respond with improvements when issues come up," Kato told a press conference on Monday.
Subject to the new reporting system are people aged 65 or older, those who require hospitalization, as well as pregnant women and high-risk patients who may require medicine or a supply of oxygen.
The new reporting system has already been adopted by nine prefectures as an emergency measure. It was expanded to cover the entire country after health follow-up centers were set up by prefectural governments for younger COVID patients with mild symptoms.
Regardless of whether a positive case is reported to authorities, infected people are able to request a stay at designated accommodation facilities or to receive food deliveries. The government will continue to ask them to refrain from going out, and for close contacts to isolate for a period of time.
The move also follows calls from some medical and other experts to downgrade the classification of the coronavirus to a level similar to seasonal flu and take a more flexible approach in the battle to stem the spread of the virus while balancing socioeconomic activities.
On Sunday, Japan posted 46,788 new coronavirus cases, down approximately 17,000 compared to a week earlier, according to local government reporting.