The omicron variant of the coronavirus is projected to account for 90% of new COVID-19 cases in Osaka Prefecture in mid-January, according to an analysis shown at a meeting of a health ministry advisory board on Tuesday.
Osaka’s proportion of omicron cases is expected to top 90% on Jan. 11, according to the analysis by Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura and other experts.
The effective reproduction number, or the average number of people infected by a single carrier, for the omicron variant is estimated to be 2.64 times that of the delta strain by that date, according to the experts.
The advisory board warned that the number of people who need to be hospitalized may increase rapidly due to the spread of the omicron variant and urged the government to shift its focus from border controls to domestic measures.
While omicron has been shown to have a lower risk of causing serious symptoms, its transmissibility is cause for concern, the advisory board said.
Considering the situation of COVID-19 infections in Osaka between Dec. 17 and Monday, it said the ratio of omicron cases was estimated to be around 30% as of Tuesday and forecast that the percentage will exceed that for delta cases in the first week of January.
With the increase of omicron cases, the number of COVID-19 patients in Osaka is assumed to rise at a faster pace compared with when the delta variant spread, it said.
On Wednesday, the Osaka Prefectural Government reported 61 COVID-19 cases, with the tally topping 60 for the first time since Nov. 11.
At the meeting of the advisory board, health minister Shigeyuki Goto said that U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co.’s oral COVID-19 drug molnupiravir has been delivered to some 900 medical institutions and pharmacies across Japan and that the drug has been administered for the first time in Kyoto Prefecture.
Meanwhile, advisory board members and others called on the government on Tuesday to revise its current policy of hospitalizing all omicron patients and to make decisions on hospitalization depending on the severity of symptoms to prepare for a rapid increase in new omicron cases.
They proposed allowing hospitals to put omicron patients, who are currently being hospitalized in private rooms, in the same room with delta patients.
Under the current rules, hospitalized patients are not discharged until they test negative twice using PCR testing, but the members suggested allowing them to leave ten days after developing symptoms.
They also said patients recuperating at home should be monitored closely through such measures as conducting medical examinations online.
Also Tuesday, Osaka Prefecture said five people had been confirmed to have been infected with the omicron variant at an elderly day care facility in the city of Neyagawa, in what may be the nation’s first cluster of omicron infections.
There are no patients with severe symptoms among them, according to the prefectural government.
The prefectural government also said a cluster of COVID-19 infections occurred at a school in the city of Settsu. Five students were confirmed to have been infected, with at least one of them confirmed to have been infected with omicron.
The Osaka government believes there is a possibility the omicron variant had been spreading even before the first community-acquired case was confirmed on Dec. 22.
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