Sunday marked three years since Japan detected its first case of coronavirus infection. The virus is still raging nationwide, posing the challenge of balancing anti-infection efforts and social and economic activities.
The health ministry says Japan has had about 31 million cases and roughly 62,000 fatalities related to the virus.
The number of cases spiked last year due to the highly infectious Omicron variant, with more than 27 million cases and some 39,000 deaths reported. The figures were around 18 times and 2.6 times higher than the respective levels a year earlier.
But the government has not declared a state of emergency or urged people to limit their activities since the seventh wave of infections last summer.
It rather shortened isolation periods for those who test positive and eased anti-infection border controls at airports.
The change of stance came amid progress in the vaccination drive as well as drops in the mortality rate and the risk of serious symptoms.
The health ministry is now discussing whether to lower the legal status of the infection to the same category as seasonal flu. Currently, COVID-19 patients can be only hospitalized at designated facilities, but ordinary hospitals will be able to admit them once recategorization takes place.
But there is still no end in sight to the pandemic as infections have been spreading faster during the current eighth wave than the seventh wave. Daily death tolls have also set records in recent days.