TOKYO: Japan will terminate the current system of counting and disclosing the number of COVID-19 deaths by prefecture in May in principle as approved by an expert panel of the health ministry Wednesday.
The panel endorsed a plan to use the ministry’s monthly population survey to obtain numbers of COVID-19 deaths from May 8, when the legal classification of the disease will be lowered to Category V, the same as for seasonal flu.
It is expected to take around two months for the ministry to obtain total death figures through the population survey, which is based on death reports submitted to local governments.
For speedier reporting, the ministry will collect total death tallies from some local governments after the reclassification in order to compile its estimates of excess mortality within about one month.
Excess mortality is the number of deaths during a period exceeding the level expected under normal conditions. It is used to assess the impact of infectious diseases on total deaths.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a panel member requested that the ministry present criteria for judging whether a death is caused by COVID-19, pointing to various causes of death reported for those infected with omicron variants.
Currently, medical institutions and public health centers report to local governments information on COVID-19 fatal cases, including the date of death and the age group of the deceased. Based on the information, the ministry announces COVID-19 fatality numbers by prefecture.
With the lowering of the COVID-19 classification, Japan will also shift to a system of receiving COVID-19 case numbers from designated medical institutions to announce estimated infection situations once a week. This will be a change from the current system of counting all recognized infection cases.