Photo/Illutration A bed for a patient with COVID-19 at Chiba University Hospital (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The health ministry on Feb. 8 moved toward recommending that hospitalized COVID-19 patients be released four days after admission if their conditions have become mild and stable.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will also accelerate efforts to allow infected seniors to be treated at nursing care facilities, rather than at hospitals, if their symptoms are mild.

Under current ministry guidelines, COVID-19 patients are allowed to leave hospitals 10 days after they first exhibit symptoms of the disease.

It has been possible for hospitalized patients to relocate to their homes and other facilities when their conditions become stable and they are unlikely to develop serious symptoms.

But the ministry’s new policy gives a specific time period to hospital officials on the early discharge of COVID-19 patients.

An analysis of medical records of COVID-19 patients receiving treatment at the National Hospital Organization’s 67 hospitals across the nation showed a fairly low percentage of patients whose conditions deteriorated to a point where they needed an extra supply of oxygen. That level is considered the “moderate II” stage under the health ministry’s standards.

In January, only 12, or 0.9 percent, of 1,321 patients at those hospitals required supplemental oxygen four days after they were admitted.

Based on that data, the ministry concluded that patients who do not need extra oxygen, or those in the “moderate I” classification, on the fifth day of hospitalization are “less likely to develop serious symptoms.”

The ministry called on hospitals treating COVID-19 patients to consider moving patients meeting those conditions to their homes, hotels or medical facilities with chronic disease wards that are not on the front line of the battle against the virus.

Some medical experts have also said that prolonging the hospitalization periods of elderly patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms could cause a deterioration in their physical abilities and cause more harm than good.

The ministry will create a support system in which doctors and nurses will be sent to elderly care facilities where infected seniors can recuperate after their early release from hospitals.

Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said on Feb. 8 that the government will raise the financial support to employment companies that dispatch nurses to such facilities to a maximum 8,280 yen ($72) per hour from 5,520 yen per hour.