Photo/Illutration The Asahi Shimbun

Health experts advising the government on its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic called for closer monitoring of strained health care systems before any decision is made on when to lift the extended state of emergency.

Updated guidelines for lifting the emergency will continue to take into account new case numbers, but greater importance will be placed on the level of strain facing already overstretched medical centers dealing with COVID-19 patients.

Shigeru Omi, chief of the panel, said Sept. 8 that the government will use the new guidelines when it weighs when to end the current emergency declaration covering the Tokyo metropolitan area and many other prefectures.

The curbs are expected to be extended to at least the end of this month, beyond the initial Sept. 12 deadline, as the Delta variant has driven new cases to their highest level during the current and fifth wave of infections.

Officials said the revised guidelines are based on the premise that new cases per 100,000 people remain below 25 for two weeks or so.

The government will assess trends regarding the number of patients with severe or moderate symptoms and those who are self-isolating at home or waiting to be informed by public health centers on whether they should self-isolate at home or at a hotel.

The panel also urged the government to take into account trends in cases where ambulances cannot find hospitals for emergency patients to gauge whether treating COVID-19 patients has finally overwhelmed the health care system.

Officials also noted that the updated guidelines retain existing indicators that the hospital bed occupancy rate and the same rate for patients in severe condition remain under 50 percent.

The panel has been reviewing the guidelines in light of the fact health experts decided that some indicators no longer apply after more than a year into the pandemic.

While the highly contagious Delta variant has cut a devastating path across Japan, the ratio of patients who develop severe symptoms has been dropping due to progress in the vaccination rollout. Nearly half of the population has now received at least one jab, according to government.

The panel is also set to consider whether to add other indicators to help the government decide when to declare a new state of emergency.