In another change in pandemic policy, the health ministry is soliciting hotels for mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 patients so the prefectures can secure accommodations to assist their recovery.

Friday’s shift followed two novel coronavirus deaths in Saitama Prefecture involving men who were self-isolating at home but died when their conditions suddenly worsened. Until then, the government had been urging people with mild cases of COVID-19 to recuperate at home instead of putting them in hospitals.

“Recuperating in a hotel will, by far, allow a faster response should anything happen. We hope to provide information so that every region can establish such a system,” health minister Katsunobu Kato said Friday.

Working with the Japan Tourism Agency, the ministry will compile a list of vacant rooms at hotels and other facilities across the country and gauge their willingness to cooperate, before passing the data on to prefectural and other governments.

The health ministry has released a manual on how to treat those with mild symptoms and is asking local governments to keep a nurse present at all times at each inn as well a doctor on call by phone.

To reduce the strain on the health care system, the ministry earlier this month recommended that prefectures prioritize COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms and send mild or asymptomatic patients to recuperate in accommodation facilities or at home. Its policy prior to that was to hospitalize them.

Thirty-nine prefectures have started or are preparing to start hotel recuperation measures, according to the ministry, which added that it has so far secured around 9,000 rooms nationwide.

Japan is in the midst of a surge of coronavirus infections that has lifted the official nationwide total to over 13,000. That number includes about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine in February.

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