The Japanese Cabinet on Friday approved a bill to penalize hospitals that fail to abide by agreements with local governments to prepare beds for patients with COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and provide outpatient care.

The bill also calls for setting penalties for people entering Japan with suspected infections who fail to report their health conditions when in isolation. In addition, the state will be allowed to request or instruct business operators to produce or import vaccines and medical supplies such as face masks and needles.

The bill is part of efforts to enable the central and local governments to respond more swiftly to major infectious disease outbreaks after criticism that the country was too slow to ensure its medical system could effectively fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan has also been criticized for lagging behind other advanced nations in giving COVID-19 vaccine shots.

The government aims to revise the infectious diseases law and other related legislation during the current Diet session and start implementing the new rules in fiscal 2024.

"We will prepare for the emergence and the spread of infectious diseases that could have a grave impact on people's lives and health," said health minister Katsunobu Kato at a press conference.

Under the envisioned law, prefectural governments will sign agreements with key local medical institutions requiring them to prepare beds for patients when infection spread.

If the medical institutions fail to abide by the prearrangements, local governments will be able to issue advisories and orders to make them comply and disclose the institutions' names if they still do not abide by the agreements.

Local authorities can also revoke the medical institutions' certification as key institutions that provide advanced treatments and support local clinics, which would result in a reduction in remuneration for their medical services.

Local clinics will also be asked to decide what role they want to play in responding to outbreaks, such as providing outpatient services for people with fever, responding to patients recuperating at home and dispatching doctors.

But since agreements with local governments are to be made on a voluntary basis, the effectiveness of the system will depend on how many medical institutions actually take part.

The legal revision will also enable dentists and clinical laboratory technicians to give vaccine shots and allow dentists to collect samples from people to conduct PCR tests.