Seemingly alarmed by the unprecedented speed with which the omicron variant is spreading across the country, the government has been forced to make another revision to its COVID-19 policies, including shortening the isolation period for close contacts and the timetable for administering booster shots.
Amid reports that the highly contagious variant is now estimated to account for more than 80% of new cases, health minister Shigeyuki Goto announced later Friday that people who have been designated as a COVID-19 close contact only need to isolate for 10 days, down from the current 14 days. For essential workers, the period will be even shorter — just six days — if they test negative on the sixth day. Municipalities can decide who is considered an essential worker, he said.
The move comes amid concerns that if more people get infected, thereby increasing the number of close contacts, there will come a point where most business and social activities will be shut down because of the need for either treatment or isolation.
According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, a person infected with omicron is most infectious from the third to sixth day after diagnosis or the onset of illness.
In addition, the likelihood that people are infectious after the tenth day is low if they have been vaccinated twice and only have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, the NIID noted on its website on Thursday.
Omicron cases accounted for 84% of all reported cases between Jan. 3 and Sunday based on preliminary figures, up from 46% the week before, according to government data.