COVID-19 experts recommend that the government drop its current policy of automatically hospitalizing all Omicron patients, saying medical facilities could be understaffed during the year-end and New Year’s holidays.
They also said quarantine rules should be relaxed for people who have been in close contact with people infected with the Omicron variant to avoid overloading designated accommodation facilities.
Seventeen experts, including Shigeru Omi, who heads the government’s panel of experts on the COVID-19 pandemic, and Takaji Wakita, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, submitted their recommendations to Minister of Health Shigeyuki Goto and Daishiro Yamagiwa, the responsible Minister of State. of economic revitalization, December 28.
They said hospitalizations for Omicron patients should be based on the severity of their symptoms, which is the measurement taken for other variants of the novel coronavirus.
Wakita told a press conference that the main goal of the automatic hospitalization policy “is not treatment but isolation”.
“Local health care resources need to be properly allocated,” he said.
Experts also called for a change in the policy to require all people who were in the vicinity of a person with the Omicron variant to self-isolate in designated accommodation facilities.
They said those people in close contact should be allowed to stay in their homes depending on the availability of secure facilities.
In addition, experts urged the government to allow Omicron patients to share hospital rooms with Delta variant patients, instead of separating them into private rooms for a single patient.
Under current policy, Omicron patients are required to undergo two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and one negative test before they can be discharged from hospitals.
But experts said the government should allow these patients to be released 10 days after symptoms start.
As of December 27, 316 Omicron infections have been confirmed nationwide. Community transmissions of the variant have also been reported in an increasing number of prefectures.
Healthcare facilities have called for a loosening of strict policies against the Omicron variant, saying patients with mild symptoms could end up filling all hospital beds.
Local governments have also called for more relaxed rules for international travelers. Local authorities are responsible for contacting people who have come into “close contact” with a passenger on the same flight who has been infected with the Omicron strain, as well as securing accommodation facilities for them.
So far, a total of 10,000 passengers have been found to be in close contact.
Local governments have said they cannot handle the growing burden.
The Ministry of Health, from December 28, refined its definition of “close contact”. Instead of covering everyone on the same flight as an infected passenger, the definition now refers to people sitting in the two rows in front of and behind the traveler with the virus.