Japan's PM eyes spring reclassification of COVID-19

More than three years after confirming its first case of the coronavirus, Japan is planning major changes to its pandemic response. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio wants COVID-19 to be reclassified this spring. It would be deemed by the government to be in the same category as the seasonal flu.

Downgrading the disease would end some of the current measures.

The government will no longer urge people infected or close contacts to isolate. And there will be more options for where COVID patients can get care.

Japan is also considering dropping its recommendation to wear masks indoors--an idea drawing mixed reaction.

About a quarter of respondents to a recent NHK poll say they will keep wearing a mask as much as possible. That's even if the virus stops spreading in the country and mask recommendations for indoors or crowded places are lifted.

The daily COVID case count has been trending down recently. Japan logged about 83,000 on Friday. That's a drop of more than 60,000 compared to a week ago.

Healthcare workers hope the strain on the medical system will be eased after the disease is reclassified, with more medical facilities being allowed to take in COVID-19 patients.

But care workers at nursing homes are concerned. Right now, local health officials direct people to facilities offering treatment for the disease. Reclassification could end this service. Care workers fear that will make it take longer to find treatment in an emergency.