Japan to downgrade COVID-19 classification in April or May

The Japanese government plans to downgrade COVID-19 to the same class of infectious diseases as seasonal flu in late April or early May. A decision on the matter is expected to be reached by the end of the week.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said last week that he intends to have the disease reclassified in principle this spring to category five, the same grouping as seasonal flu. COVID-19 is currently classified as equivalent to category two -- the second-most severe tier on Japan's classification system for infectious disease. The level allows authorities to take strict measures to prevent spreading of the disease.

The plan so far is for the reclassification to take place in April or May after local governments and medical institutions have had enough time to prepare.

The government says it will narrow down the timing of the shift and convene a coronavirus task force meeting for a decision by the end of the week.

The government plans to continue funding medical treatment after the reclassification, citing concerns that people might be discouraged from seeing a doctor if they have to pay out of pocket.

Some government officials have proposed easing rules on mask usage at schools ahead of the classification change.