Photo/Illutration Shigeru Omi, second from left and chief of a government expert panel on the novel coronavirus pandemic, explains the proposals to the government regarding how to tackle COVID-19. (Tsubasa Setoguchi)

The government must consider phasing out requiring doctors to report the number of all COVID-19 patients in their care, experts on infectious diseases said in their proposal to the government on Aug. 2.

The request was part of a proposal for tackling the virus amid the seventh wave of infections given by a group of experts that includes Shigeru Omi, chief of a government expert panel on the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The capacities of medical institutions and public health centers are reaching their limits,” Omi said at a news conference on Aug. 2.

In a separate move, Shinji Hirai, chair of the National Governors’ Association, and Kichiro Matsumoto, chair of the Japan Medical Association, on Aug. 2 handed an urgent proposal to health minister Shigeyuki Goto.

In it, they demanded that the requirement for doctors to report the number of all COVID-19 patients in their care be reviewed as it places a huge burden on local medical systems.

Eighteen people put together the proposal. They included members of the government expert panel such as Omi and another expert panel advising the health ministry, as well as other experts on infectious diseases, the economy and the legal system.

The proposal also stated if the government chooses to let social and economic activities continue while preventing medical systems from coming under serious pressure, it urgently needs to allow local public health centers to no longer have to identify those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients.

The proposal warns of the possibility the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients or deaths from the virus will rise, putting medical systems under more strain.

The government needs to consider two points if it aims to sustain both the medical system and social and economic activities, the proposal states.

The first point is “Responsible behavior by individuals that does not lead to the spread of infection.”

The other is “Shifting to a flexible and efficient health and medical system that better fits the characteristics of the Omicron variant.”

Experts warned, however, that the government will need to consider restricting people’s behavior if the medical system is still under strain even after these two points are put into action.

Regarding the first point, experts said people should thoroughly follow basic measures, such as avoiding eating out in a large group.

They stressed the continuation of social or economic activities doesn’t mean people can behave in a way that poses a higher risk of infections.

For the second point, experts proposed it be carried out in two phases.

The government and local authorities should urgently consider the first-phase measures, they said.

The measures include requiring doctors to report only the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients or deaths from the novel coronavirus.

They also include loosening infection prevention measures that hospitals are required to follow so that more hospitals can treat COVID-19 patients.

The second-phase measures are those that Japan as a nation should do to deal with the virus in the future.

They include changing how the novel coronavirus is treated in the infectious disease prevention law, including reclassifying it as a Type V infectious disease, a lower category than its current category of Type II.

Omi said it is the experts’ responsibility to promptly communicate to society the necessary measures to prevent the spread of infections and strain on the medical system.

(This article was written by Kai Ichino and Etsuko Akuzawa.)