• Kyodo

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Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said Tuesday the country has boosted its medical capacity so it can admit 37,000 patients to hospitals, up 30% from this summer, in preparation for a possible resurgence of the coronavirus.

Goto told a news conference that the government has met its goal of securing more hospital beds, officially decided in November, after many people were forced to recuperate at home during this summer’s fifth wave of infections.

But he said the government will review its policy when required as concerns mount over the omicron variant. “We will be flexible in coming up with a way of offering medical care,” Goto said.

Japan saw a surge in infections this summer that coincided with the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Due to the strain on the medical system, there were cases where people died at home without being hospitalized.

The country has since seen a dramatic decline in cases, but concerns remain over a possible sixth wave of infections, especially after the highly contagious omicron variant was detected in Japan.

While daily infections nationwide have remained at under 200 for about three weeks, Japan has already confirmed three cases of the highly mutated strain.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed in his policy speech on Monday to “prepare for the worst” in dealing with the omicron variant, adding that the government will “maintain our stance of being cautious and prudent” in the battle against the virus.

About 77% of the population has been fully vaccinated against the virus. Kishida said his government will shorten the interval between receiving a second vaccine shot and becoming eligible for a booster from eight months to at least six months.

Japan started administering COVID-19 booster shots on Dec. 1 to individuals who received their second shot at least eight months ago.

Health care professionals across the country are first in line for a third dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, with the elderly expected to follow in the near future to prevent the spread of infections and severe symptoms.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Sunday the government is working with local governments to shorten the interval before the booster to at least six months “based on capacity,” with the government eyeing approving Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine for use as a booster along with the Pfizer vaccine, which has already been greenlighted for booster use.

Kihara said that, if approved, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, like the Pfizer vaccine, could also be used as a booster for those who did not receive it for their first two shots.

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