Japan has decided to downgrade COVID-19 to the same category of infectious diseases as seasonal influenza on May 8.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, health minister Kato Katsunobu and other Cabinet members attended a meeting of the government's task force on Friday to make the decision.
Kishida said at the meeting that based on the opinions by a health ministry panel, COVID-19 will be downgraded on May 8 unless specific circumstances arise.
He said the government will hear from experts before downgrading COVID-19, which is now classified as equivalent to category two, the second-most severe tier.
The current level allows authorities to take strict measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including restrictions on people's movements.
Seasonal flu is in category five, the lowest tier. After COVID-19 is downgraded to category five, the government plans to review the medical system to enable patients of the disease to receive treatment at more medical institutions.
It also plans to continue to cover patients' medical expenses for a limited period of time to prevent a sharp increase in their financial burden. The prime minister said the government will provide details in early March.
As for vaccines, the government plans to continue allowing people to get them free of charge, if necessary.
Kishida also said the government will review a policy on indoor and outdoor facial masks so that whether to wear them will be left up to individuals. He said it will study when the review on masks will be done.
The task force meeting decided to scrap the 50 percent capacity limit on spectators for sports, music and other events that involve cheering or shouting. Organizers can hold such events at full capacity of the venue from now on, as long as they implement anti-infection measures.
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