The Japanese government said Tuesday it will cease subsidizing medical expenses for people infected with COVID-19, including no longer fixing the cost of medicines, at the end of March due to a fall in the number of cases.

With Japan's health care arrangements returning to pre-pandemic status from April, patients will have to pay 10 to 30 percent of the cost of coronavirus treatment drugs. Income levels and age determine how much each person pays.

Government subsidies for hospitalizations and for medical institutions to reserve beds for coronavirus inpatients will also end.

"Hospitals are making preparations to admit coronavirus sufferers to general wards and we think that is no problem," Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Keizo Takemi told a press conference.

Takemi also said the ministry on Tuesday granted formal approval for Shionogi & Co. to manufacture and sell oral coronavirus drug Xocova after the pharmaceutical firm earned emergency approval in November as the first domestically-produced oral treatment for the coronavirus.

At present, coronavirus sufferers of income levels that would see them pay the maximum 30 percent of medical expenses under the country's health care system are charged up to a fixed amount of 9,000 yen ($60) for antivirals.

When paying 30 percent of expenses from April onwards, a person would have to pay more than 15,000 yen for a five-day course of Xocova tablets, which cost around 52,000 yen without subsidies.

The Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases and the Japanese Society of Chemotherapy had previously requested the health ministry continue government subsidies fearing that a rise in costs could discourage those who become infected from purchasing the drugs.

Shionogi & Co.'s oral COVID-19 drug Xocova. (Photo courtesy of Shionogi & Co.)(Kyodo)

The Japanese government initially covered all coronavirus-related medical expenses. It has gradually been reducing its support since May last year when the legal status of the virus was downgraded to the same category as seasonal influenza.

According to the ministry, the average number of coronavirus sufferers treated at around 5,000 designated medical institutions stood at 7.92 per institution in the week through Feb. 25, falling for the third consecutive week.

With the number down in all of Japan's 47 prefectures in the reporting week as compared to a week earlier, experts have suggested the country's 10th COVID-19 wave has passed its peak.


Related coverage:

Foreign visitors to Japan in Jan. returns to pre-pandemic level

COVID patients again rising in Japan, experts warn of 10th wave