Photo/Illutration An apartment room Matsuri Technologies Inc. rents out to people who need to self-isolate after coming into close contact with those infected with the novel coronavirus (Provided by Matsuri Technologies Inc.)

To relieve the strain on public health centers and medical institutions, experts are proposing at-home "self-treatment" for COVID-19 patients at low risk of becoming seriously ill. 

Some members of the health ministry's advisory panel of experts on the pandemic at a Feb. 2 meeting recommended low-risk patients recuperate at home for seven days without seeing a doctor or undergoing administrative COVID-19 testing in areas with rising cases.

The experts effectively gave their blessing to similar makeshift measures being taken by Kanagawa Prefecture to prevent further straining outpatient services for those running a fever and institutions conducting tests.

The panel members proposed implementing flexible measures in prefectures where the daily number of new cases per 100,000 people remains at 50 or higher for at least a week.

Under the recommendations, low-risk patients, defined as those between ages 6 and 49 who have mild symptoms and no underlying conditions, are asked to recuperate at home and not targeted for health monitoring by public health centers.

Those who test positive for the virus through voluntary testing conducted by private institutions are also urged to recover at home if they meet the definition of being at low risk.

But the experts advised against at-home self-care if patients have moderate or serious symptoms; are aged 50 or older or 5 or younger; are pregnant or likely pregnant; are obese; have pre-existing conditions that raise the risk of becoming seriously ill; or are deemed necessary to rest at accommodation facilities to prevent transmitting the virus to their family members.

Local governments are required to collect only general information on those undergoing self-treatment, such as their gender and age, since they would not be treated as “patients” under the infectious disease law.

Local authorities will also obtain contact information of these individuals and check on their health only when their conditions have worsened.

The proposed at-home self-care policy saves doctors from having to prepare documents to notify the authorities of positive cases as required by the infectious disease law. However, it raises questions about how people under such treatment would be treated under the law.

Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said during a Feb. 2 Lower House Budget Committee session that low-risk patients are currently undergoing self-care without doctors’ diagnoses in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Goto said he understands that doctors do not need to report such cases since they are not covered by the current infectious disease law.

“I don’t see any problems, but we need to discuss how to treat such patients under the law,” Goto said.

The experts also proposed targeting only medical institutions and welfare facilities for “proactive epidemiological studies” conducted by public health centers to identify those who have come into close contact with infected individuals.

According to a tally by The Asahi Shimbun, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people had topped 100 in Tokyo and exceeded 50 mainly in urban areas in Osaka and other prefectures as of Feb. 1.

But the experts urged the central government to be cautious about lifting the current measures where any COVID-19 cases are thoroughly followed up on as set forth in the infectious disease law when adopting the new self-care policy.