Panel OKs new COVID-19 assessment scale

A Japanese government panel on coronavirus responses has approved a new five-point scale for assessing the infection situation, with greater emphasis on the degree of strain on medical services.

The panel gave its approval at a meeting on Monday.

Japanese officials have been studying antivirus measures based on a four-stage scale. But the panel says the situation in the country has been changing, due to progress with the vaccine rollout and the development of drugs to treat COVID-19.

Under the new plan, the situation in each prefecture will be analyzed on a scale of zero to four. The lowest level means being able to cap the number of new cases at zero.

The maximum level of four means being unable to respond to patients infected with the virus despite severe restrictions on regular medical services.

The plan shows what kinds of measures will have to be taken for each level.

The panel says prefectures should try to keep the situation in their regions at the first level. This means being able to provide medical services in a stable manner even if people are infected with the virus.

The panel also says it will be possible to gradually return people's lives as well as social and economic activities to normal by vaccinating more people, strengthening the medical system and continuing basic antivirus measures.

The head of the panel, Omi Shigeru, told reporters that officials will continue to closely monitor the infection situation, but will place greater importance on the degree of strain on medical services.

He said he hopes the central and local governments will use the existing indexes and a newly developed tool for predicting infections and situations at medical institutions so they can take the necessary action without delay.

Omi stressed the importance of forecasting how things will be in 2 to 3 weeks and implementing measures sooner rather than later.