Kishida instructs ministers to consider downgrading COVID-19 classification

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

Kishida met health minister Kato Katsunobu and the minister in charge of coronavirus measures, Goto Shigeyuki, on Friday.

They discussed reclassifying COVID-19 from its level 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 spreading of the disease.

After the meeting, Kishida told reporters that experts have been discussing a review of the classification since last November, and that they came back with their opinion last week.

He said he instructed the ministers to go ahead with discussions for reclassifying the disease in principle this spring to category five -- the same as seasonal flu.

Kishida said when the classification changes, the government will review the policy of asking patients and those who have had contact with infected people to refrain from outings. He added that the government is already reviewing financial measures now in place.

He said the government will promote steps to allow people to coexist with the coronavirus. He also said various measures and policies to deal with the coronavirus will change in phases in an attempt to return to a normal way of life.

He added that the government will also review anti-infection measures such as mask-wearing.

Kishida said vaccinations will be provided based on the immunization law regardless of COVID-19's categorization. He also said he wants to ask people to receive vaccines available now, and that discussions on future vaccinations are also underway.

Regarding the timing of the classification change, he said he wants to clarify it in a meeting of an expert panel from now until next week.

Asked why he decided to move forward with discussions to review the classification when the number of COVID-19 deaths is increasing, he said such discussions have been going on since last year.

Kishida also said he based the decision to change the classification in principle this spring on expert opinions given to him last week.