• Kyodo

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Japan will revise its criteria used to assess the COVID-19 situation, shifting focus to hospital capacity from the number of new infections, in line with progress in the vaccination rate, government officials said Monday.

The new system, discussed during a meeting of the government's subcommittee on the coronavirus response, will also classify the situation according to five levels, up from the current four.

The alert levels have been used by the government in deciding whether to declare a state of emergency and by prefectural governments in deciding on what kind of measures to take against the virus.

The revised system will incorporate a projection of hospital bed availability and try to forecast earlier whether there may be a serious strain on the country's medical system in the wake of a resurgence of infections.

Economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is in charge of the government's COVID-19 response, said work has been under way to come up with new standards by mid-November.

"Based on today's discussions, we would like to prepare for a potential resurgence of infections by assuming a worst case scenario," Yamagiwa said at the meeting.

The move comes after a recent sharp fall in the number of serious COVID-19 patients in Japan, with over 70% of the population now fully inoculated.

Under the five-phase scale of assessment, alert level zero means a situation of no new COVID-19 cases, while level 1 signifies the health care system is able to respond to COVID-19 in a stable manner.

Level 2 warns that an increase of infections is beginning to put a strain on the medical system, while level 3 means a state of emergency is needed. Level 4 signifies that hospitals are no longer able to deal with COVID-19 patients sufficiently even if they reduce general medical services.

Whether to move from level 2 to level 3 will be decided by prefectures when hospital bed occupancy rate reaches 50% or when it is estimated that available beds would be full in three weeks' time.

Amid progress in the vaccine rollout and new medicines becoming available, Japan saw no deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday — the first time in about 15 months.

A total of 162 new infections were reported in Japan on Sunday, with the number of patients with severe symptoms standing at 100, according to the health ministry.

The daily death count peaked in mid-May this year, eclipsing 200, but had recently been at a single-digit level.

Medicines such as casirivimab and imdevimab, which are administered intravenously in an "antibody cocktail" treatment, have been widely introduced in the country. The treatment lowers the risk of hospitalization or death by about 70%, according to overseas clinical trials.

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