Japan to lower COVID-19 to flu status in spring – Nationwide
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 to the equivalent of seasonal influenza in the spring, a move that would further relax mask wearing and other preventive measures as the country seeks to return to normalcy. Kishida said he has instructed experts and government officials to discuss the details on lowering COVID-19’s status. A change would also remove self-isolation rules and other anti-virus requirements and allow COVID-19 patients to seek treatment at any hospital instead of only specialised facilities.
In Japan, COVID-19 is currently categorized as a Class 2 disease, along with SARS and tuberculosis, and is subject to restricting movements of patients and their close contacts, while allowing central and local governments to issue emergency measures. Downgrading it to Class 5 would mean scrapping those rules. The planned change would mark a major turning point in Japan’s COVID-19 policy toward normalizing social and economic activities. The move, however, comes as Japan faces widespread infections and record levels of deaths in what is considered its eighth wave of outbreak since the pandemic began three years ago.
According to the Health Ministry, daily deaths totalled a record high of 503. Experts say the latest increase could be linked to worsening chronic illnesses among older patients. Downgrading the legal status of COVID-19 under the infectious disease law could remove ongoing hospitalization and self-isolation rules and help to free up hospital beds reserved for COVID-19 patients, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
The idea is to create a system where COVID-19 can be treated as part of ordinary medical services, he said. But he cautioned: “Changing its classification doesn’t mean coronavirus is gone. We still need everyone to take voluntary measures by using masks and precautions.”
Kato said mask wearing is unnecessary outdoors now and that indoor use would also be eased once the downgrade is in place. Kato said it will require some adjustments for people, workplaces, municipalities, and hospitals, and declined to set an exact timeline, other than to say it would occur in “the spring.” Details are still being worked out but the cost of COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations are expected to still be covered by the government for now.
Foreign visitors to Japan in 2022 up 15-fold to 3.83 million – Nationwide
The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2022 sharply recovered and grew 15-fold from the previous year to 3.83 million after the easing of border controls imposed to counter the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data. The number was still 88 percent lower than the record high of 31.88 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the Japan Tourism Agency said.
A further recovery in the number of foreign arrivals will likely depend on the return of visitors from mainland China, which until earlier this month largely restricted overseas travel under its strict “zero-COVID” policy. Japan has also strengthened its border controls for those traveling from China to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after cases have exploded in the East Asian neighbour following the easing of its restrictions.
By origin, the largest number of travellers in 2022 came from South Korea at 1.01 million, followed by 331,100 from Taiwan, 323,500 from the United States and 284,100 from Vietnam. Japan scrapped coronavirus testing requirements in October last year. The number of visitors to Japan in December alone was 1.37 million, significantly increasing from 12,084 a year earlier.
Coming-of-Age Day ceremonies held across Japan – Nationwide
Young women in colourful kimonos and smartly-dressed men celebrated Coming-of-Age Day at ceremonies across Japan. Held annually on the second Monday of January, the day marked the first Coming-of-Age Day since Japan lowered the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 years old in 2022.
Once again, the ceremonies were held in the shadow of the coronavirus with infection numbers rising in Japan. Participants wore masks, while ceremonies were scaled back in some prefectures. As usual, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea were popular spots for young adults to celebrate the day.
The government lowered the age of adulthood to 18 last April by revising the Civil Code and changing the legal definition of an adult for the first time in over 140 years, opening up new freedoms and responsibilities for 18- and 19-year-olds. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, as of Jan 1, there were an estimated 1.120 million 18-year-olds, 1.13 million 19-year-olds and 1.17 million 20-year-olds.