Japan's health ministry decided Friday to reduce medical support for people infected with the novel coronavirus starting in October, as part of a broader plan to return the health care system to normal by next spring.

Even after the downgrade of the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as seasonal flu in May, the government has maintained some of its support to prevent sudden increases in medical expenses for the public.

A panel under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare discusses coronavirus-related medical support from October on Sept. 15, 2023. (Kyodo)

Based on the latest decision, the support for hospitalization will be halved to 10,000 yen ($68), which will be deducted from the maximum amount of personal payment, and people will have to pay up to 9,000 yen for expensive antiviral drugs out of pocket, with the specific amount to be determined based on their incomes.

For example, people with income levels who usually shoulder 30 percent of their medical expenses under the health care scheme in Japan will pay a fixed amount of 9,000 yen for antiviral drugs priced over 90,000 yen, such as Lagevrio and Paxlovid.

The fixed subsidy amount provided to medical institutions for reserving beds for COVID-19 patients will become flexible in accordance with the evolving infection situation.

In the week through Sunday, the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 as reported by about 5,000 designated medical institutions across Japan, stood at 99,744, nearly flat from the previous week, according to the data by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The number of newly hospitalized patients stood at 11,566, down about 10 percent, the data showed.

With infections feared to rise as schools reopen after the summer recess, the government has continued to call on the public to take basic anti-infection measures.

According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, an offshoot of the Omicron variant EG.5.1 has been on the rise in Japan and is forecast to account for about 60 percent of the infections next week.

Earlier this month, Japan detected a new variant known as BA.2.86, which is a source of concern due to its potential ability to evade immune protection owing to the high mutation rate, for the first time.

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