COVID-19 threat fades as Japan downgrades disease, officially ends restrictions
Stars and Stripes May 8, 2023
TOKYO — Japan marked the end of an era Monday by declaring COVID-19 a disease on par with influenza, dealing an end to years of restrictive public measures designed to curb its spread.
The announcement by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which was planned weeks in advance, follows a declaration Friday by the World Health Organization ending more than three years of a worldwide public health emergency.
COVID-19 is “now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” according to a statement from WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. WHO declared the public health emergency in January 2020, and in March 2020 began referring to it as a pandemic.
By downgrading COVID-19, the Japanese government may no longer legally restrict public movement to prevent the spread of infection. Preventative measures will be an individual responsibility, according to the Health Ministry.
"In principle, the decision regarding preventative measures will be left to the judgment of individuals and businesses," the Cabinet Secretary’s website states.
However, the ministry still recommends measures such as proper ventilation and washing and sanitizing hands as effective in preventing infection.
Television news in Tokyo on Monday showed convenience store clerks taking down plastic partitions at cashier counters and clerks without masks serving customers. Reports also showed many commuters on public transportation still wearing masks.
The Japanese government on March 13 had already lifted the mask restriction. It also lifted all border control measures on April 29, allowing travelers to enter Japan without showing proof of taking a series of three vaccinations nor proof of a negative test result prior to arrival.
The new policy also means that anyone infected with COVID-19 is no longer required to stay home for five days but should stay home, the same procedure for seasonal influenza, according to the Health Ministry. Close contacts of those infected also do not have to stay home.
Japan had counted 33.8 million COVID-19 cases and 74,654 deaths as of Sunday.