Japan is to allow medical workers who have been identified as close contacts of people infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 to keep working, after staff absences caused by a 14-day quarantine period stressed the health system in an area suffering from a large outbreak.
Healthcare staff can continue working as long as they pass daily tests, Japanese Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Shigeyuki Goto told reporters on Wednesday. The government is moving to allocate resources to those who need them the most as cases surge in Japan, which had all but snuffed out its wave of the Delta variant.
Nationwide, new COVOD-19 cases jumped by 13,044 on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since September.
In the southern island of Okinawa, the site of one of the nation’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks, the number of healthcare workers taking sick leave climbed to a record, forcing some medical institutions to limit their capacity to accept emergency patients, local media said.
A Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare panel plans to advise the government to cut the length of quarantine required for all other close contacts of Omicron cases to 10 days from 14 days after recognizing the new variant’s short incubation period, the Yomiuri Shinbun reported yesterday without citing anyone.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday said that the plan is under consideration.
“Experts have pointed out that it’s important to take appropriate measures so that society, including the healthcare system, can function properly,” Kishida told reporters in Tokyo.
If Japan decides to cut the quarantine period for all people who have been identified as close contacts of Omicron, it would follow the US and Australia, which require an isolation period of at least five days and seven days respectively.
The Tokyo prefectural government raised its COVID-19 alert to the second-highest level on a four-tier system, amid warnings that Omicron is quickly replacing the Delta variant and can cause social disruption.
A panel of experts advising the Tokyo government said that new daily cases can exceed 10,000 and there is a need to prepare a system that allows patients to be swiftly moved into isolation to stem the new wave of infections.
The panel also raised the virus alert to the third highest of all four stages.
Japan is introducing booster vaccinations to healthcare workers and the elderly. The government plans to boost the rest of the population starting around March. Almost 80 percent of Japanese residents are fully vaccinated with two shots, making it one of the most immunized nations among developed countries.
The government has also increased the number of medical institutions that are able to conduct visits to treat people at home in isolation by 30 percent to 16,000 from November, Goto said.
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