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Public health experts warn of potential rapid spread of Omicron

All national papers took up a warning issued on Tuesday by a Health Ministry advisory board made up of epidemiologists, virologists, and other health professionals that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may have already spread to various parts of the country given the detection of multiple cases of community transmission of the variant. The board reportedly estimated that the emerging variant will become the predominant strain of the virus in mid-January. Noting that most of the 316 patients who have tested positive for the strain in Japan have had mild or no symptoms, the panel advised the public to thoroughly observe infection prevention protocols during the New Year’s holiday season to avoid contracting the virus without noticing it and spreading it to others. As the Omicron variant is extremely contagious, the health professionals expressed alarm that its rapid spread could cause a spike in infections and strain hospital capacities.

 

However, some experts reportedly urged the GOJ to change the current guideline requiring the hospitalization of all Omicron patients to avoid overwhelming hospitals during the holiday season when healthcare resources tend to be in short supply. They also recommended allowing people who have been in close contact with Omicron carriers to quarantine at home rather than in designated facilities. They also reportedly advised shortening the 10-day quarantine period for travelers arriving from overseas to 3 days.

The papers reported that Prime Minister Kishida held a meeting with relevant cabinet ministers on COVID-19, quoting him as telling the press afterward: “Optimism is not warranted about heading off the spread of the Omicron variant. I instructed cabinet members to act proactively while paying close attention to the infection situation during the holiday season.”

In a related development, all national dailies wrote that the nation’s first cluster infection caused by the Omicron strain was confirmed in Osaka on Tuesday, with three residents and two care workers at a nursing home testing positive. The prefecture reported a total of 51 COVID-19 cases overall yesterday, the highest number in almost seven weeks.

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