Accessibility links

Breaking News

Japan to Downgrade Disease Status of COVID-19

People wear face masks as they leave a train station in Tokyo, Jan. 20, 2023.
People wear face masks as they leave a train station in Tokyo, Jan. 20, 2023.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday he will downgrade the status of COVID-19 in the next three months to a Class 5 disease, the same level as seasonal influenza, and will re-examine pandemic preventive measures such as mask wearing.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with his government ministers, Kishida said he instructed officials to examine the specific requirements for a reclassification of COVID, as well as conduct a review of pandemic restrictions that have been in place for nearly three years.

Japan currently classifies COVID-19 as a Class 2 infectious disease, like tuberculosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. That status allows the government to take extensive steps aimed at preventing its spread, such as limitations on the movements of infected people and their close contacts.

A downgrade in classification would mark a significant step toward normalizaling social and economic activities in Japan, and would probably result in foreigners being able to enter Japan without PCR tests or quarantine.

The announcement comes as Japan’s Health Ministry reports the country is experiencing its eighth wave of infections. The daily tally of cases has remained high, occasionally topping 200,000, with record daily deaths reported.

The government, however, is leaning toward downgrading the status of COVID-19, as the disease has become less deadly due partly to a vaccination program, and with calls growing to invigorate the economy stifled by the pandemic.

As part of the downgrade, the Japanese government may drop its recommendation for the wearing of face masks indoors. It already suggests that people not wear them outdoors, but most Japanese residents continue to do so.

Japan’s Kyodo news reports an expert panel under the Health Ministry urged the administration last week to take a "gradual" approach to a downgrading of COVID-19, while maintaining measures against coronavirus to ensure adequate medical care.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters