• Kyodo

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Around 366,000 elderly people are still waiting to be admitted to special nursing homes across Japan, down 30 percent from the previous tally in 2013, the welfare ministry’s latest survey showed Monday.

The number dropped with fewer people now able to apply because of tougher admission requirements introduced in April 2015 that only those classified in medium and serious care levels can principally be allowed to enter such homes, according to the ministry.

The tightened admission rules were aimed at containing soaring public expenses in nursing care and providing substantial services to those in need.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to reduce the number of elderly waiting to enter such facilities to zero by the early 2020s, hoping to keep working people from having to quit their jobs to provide nursing care for elderly family members, in an effort to address the nation’s labor shortage amid a shrinking population.

Among the waiting elderly in care levels from 1 through 5, the number of those classified in more serious levels — between 3 and 5 — totaled 295,237, down about 50,000 from the previous tally, according to the latest survey based on reports from prefectural governments as of April 2016.

An official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry traced the decline in the total to “progress in building such facilities and the spread of nursing care services available at home.”

The special nursing homes are equipped to provide round-the-clock assistance with meals, toileting and bathing, admitting people for life, and are covered by public care insurance, which can provide the services at lower cost than those offered by private entities.

According to the ministry, there were 9,681 such facilities across the country as of December, accommodating around 580,000 people.

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