Japan's government has decided to work toward easing anti-COVID measures by recategorizing the new coronavirus into the same class as seasonal influenza.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is expected to meet health minister Kato Katsunobu and others on Friday and instruct them to have an expert panel study necessary steps for the reclassification.
COVID-19 is currently ranked at a level almost equivalent to category two -- the second-most severe tier on Japan's ranking system for infectious diseases.
Strict measures including restrictions on people's movements, can be imposed for category two.
But in light of COVID's impact on socioeconomic activity, the government on Thursday decided to work toward downgrading it to category five, the lowest rank, as early as spring.
If COVID is lowered to category five, more hospitals can accept coronavirus patients and people will no longer be urged to limit their activities.
The expert panel is expected to discuss renewing provision of health care services and preventive measures suited to category five.
COVID-19 patients will need to shoulder some medical and hospitalization fees if the disease is put into the new category. They do not need to do so while COVID is in the category two equivalent.
But some officials are urging the government to keep shouldering all costs regardless of any downgrade.
The panel is also expected to discuss whether to change the current recommendation to wear masks indoors.