TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -The resurgence of the novel coronavirus is feared as winter approaches.
Winter is also the season when the number of influenza patients increases. It is necessary to prevent the simultaneous spread of the coronavirus and influenza and avoid confusion on the front line of medical institutions.
While fewer than 100,000 people in the entire nation have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus, the number of people infected with the flu is at the level of 10 million every year.
Since it is difficult to distinguish between the coronavirus and the flu based on symptoms alone, it is said that people with a fever are inevitably suspected of having a coronavirus infection.
In the conventional medical care system, there is a limit to the response to this problem, and the burden on public health centers that are tasked with distinguishing each case will increase. It is important that a wide range of medical institutions are able to treat patients.
The government intends to switch to a system in which patients suspected of having a coronavirus infection will be able to visit their family doctors and other medical institutions that are familiar to them.
So far, consultation facilities set up at public health centres have served as a point of contact for people suspected of being infected with the virus. The government's policy can be said to be a realistic response, taking into account a possible increase in the number of patients with fever.
Unlike large, well-equipped hospitals with sufficient medical staff, however, local medical institutions often do not have enough space to separate coronavirus-infected patients from general patients.
It will be necessary to devise ways to do this, such as by dividing the consultation hours or examining patients in temporary tents on the premises.
It would be more efficient if tests for both influenza and the coronavirus are conducted during patient examinations. However, while test kits for influenza are widely used, the coronavirus testing system is inadequate.
It is urgent to spread the use of antigen and other types of tests that are more convenient than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. It is also expected that a method will be established in which both tests can be conducted at the same time using mucus from the nose and saliva.
To avoid pressured working conditions on the front line of medical institutions, it is necessary to reduce the number of flu patients.
In the case of elderly people, there is a fear that symptoms will become serious regardless of which one they are infected with. It is advisable for them to be vaccinated against influenza in advance.
The government will prepare influenza vaccines for 63 million people, which is more than last year.
In administering the vaccines, higher priority should be given to people such as the elderly, those with chronic diseases and medical workers. It is worth considering providing subsidies to cover the fees for vaccinations.
The government is planning to review the legal status of the coronavirus and establish a principle of people with mild or no symptoms staying at a hotel or at home for their treatment.
To prepare for the spread of the flu, the environment must be improved so that medical institutions will be able to concentrate on treating seriously ill patients.
Influenza and the coronavirus have the common features of spreading through airborne droplets and in close-contact settings.
The measures against the coronavirus, such as avoiding crowding and washing hands, also help curb the spread of influenza. It is vital to continue such efforts on a daily basis in order to overcome the winter epidemic season.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.