Japan PM Kishida instructs officials to consider reclassifying COVID in spring

Japan's Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has instructed ministers to consider steps toward recategorizing COVID-19 into the same class of infectious diseases as seasonal flu this spring.

Kishida held a meeting with health minister Kato Katsunobu and the minister in charge of coronavirus measures, Goto Shigeyuki, on Friday.

They discussed the classification of COVID-19 in view of the recent downward trend in infections.

Kishida told reporters after the meeting that he will ask experts to discuss steps toward reclassifying the disease to category five this spring in principle.

COVID-19 is now ranked at a level almost equivalent to category two -- the second-most severe tier on Japan's classification system for infectious diseases. The level allows authorities to take strict measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including urging people to limit their movements.

If COVID-19 is lowered to category five, the lowest rank, more medical institutions can accept coronavirus patients and people will no longer be requested to limit their activities.

An expert panel is now expected to discuss what healthcare services should be prepared for the reclassification, and to what extent the government should continue to cover medical costs.

The panel will also study anti-infection measures, including whether to continue recommending wearing masks indoors, and whether to change its vaccination system.