Help hospitals Cooperate as New Emergency Starts / Individual Efforts Vital to Control Pandemic

The degree of urgency over novel coronavirus infections is increasing. The government, medical professionals, companies and individuals must do what is needed themselves, and make the utmost effort to overcome the crisis.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures under the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza. This is the second emergency declaration since spring last year, and the period is from Jan. 8 to Feb. 7.

■ Support restaurants

The number of new cases nationwide has been at a record high level, with Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures accounting for the majority. The number of people with serious symptoms has also been on the rise. Medical institutions’ readiness to accept coronavirus patients is reportedly reaching its limit. It has been observed that the public is experiencing “self-restraint fatigue,” but now is the time to stand firm to overcome the pandemic.

Based on the government’s basic policy to deal with the infectious disease, Tokyo and the three prefectures are asking eating and drinking establishments to shorten their operating hours to 8 p.m. Financial support for such businesses that cooperate with the requests will be increased from a maximum of ¥40,000 a day to a maximum of ¥60,000. There are plans to expand the scope of the relief by calculating it on a per-outlet rather than per-operator basis.

The business conditions of many dining establishments have been deteriorating due to the coronavirus crisis. The central and local governments should not only provide financial assistance promptly but also take sufficient measures to help them maintain operations.

Visitors to events will be capped at 5,000 people or 50% of venue capacity, whichever is less. Organizers are required to pay more attention to measures against infections, such as measuring visitors’ temperature and ventilation.

The government has asked residents to refrain from nonessential and nonurgent outings, especially at nighttime. It has called on companies to reduce the number of people working in the office by 70%. Many companies have already introduced teleworking. It is hoped that they will actively try to reach that goal by making use of the know-how they have accumulated so far.

■ Slow response to pandemic

It is important to quickly rebuild the medical system to deal with coronavirus patients.

There are 730,000 acute care beds for operations or emergencies nationwide. Among developed countries, Japan has an extremely large number of such beds per capita. Nevertheless, only 27,600 beds have been secured by local governments to treat coronavirus patients.

It is said that hospital bed capacity has become tight despite the number of virus patients being far lower than in Europe and the United States because there are many small and midsize private hospitals in Japan and coronavirus patients are concentrated in large hospitals.

It is necessary to strengthen cooperation among hospitals as soon as possible and improve their preparedness to accept such patients. The government should divide up the responsibility on a regional basis and accelerate its efforts to dispatch medical workers to hospitals that are in dire straits.

The spread of the coronavirus infection in winter had been expected. The fact that sufficient hospital beds have yet to be secured can only be said to have been caused by the government’s slow response to the coronavirus crisis.

At the end of last year, the government announced an emergency aid measure of up to ¥15 million per bed for hospitals that have accepted coronavirus patients in areas where the virus has been spreading. There is reportedly a university hospital that has refurbished intensive care units to secure beds for virus patients with serious symptoms.

The government needs to take thorough measures to ensure that the subsidies are distributed to medical institutions as soon as possible.

Nurses have been leaving their jobs one after another. Some are even in charge of cleaning and disinfecting hospital rooms. Efforts should be made swiftly to reduce the burden on nurses so that they can concentrate on their original duties. Malicious defamation is still said to be directed at them. There should be no discrimination or prejudice against medical workers on the front line.

The government intends to submit to the ordinary Diet session a bill to revise the special measures law, which includes steps to support stores that comply with requests to suspend operations. It is also advisable for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss legislation to make it easier for hospitals to be involved in the treatment of coronavirus patients.

This time, the government did not ask for blanket school closures of elementary, junior high and high schools. This is because children are often infected with the virus at home, and the risk of infection at school is considered to be limited. As mass infections occur sporadically during school club activities, they should avoid high-risk activities such as those involving physical contact.

The entrance examination season will soon be in full swing. The Common Test for University Admissions will be held from Jan. 16 as scheduled and junior high and high school entrance exams are approaching.

■ Avoid exam confusion

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry must do its utmost to avoid confusion over entrance exams. Schools must be careful not to disadvantage those who are infected with the virus or those who have close contact with infected people. Each household should be careful not to bring the infection home to family members.

A coronavirus variant prevailing in Britain has been confirmed in Japan. As the variant is believed to be highly contagious, it is essential to take countermeasures at airports for border control and strengthen the domestic surveillance system.

The government has allowed businesspeople to travel to and from China, South Korea and other countries as an exception. However, depending on the circumstances, it is necessary to suspend such travel.

Vaccinations have already started in the United States and Britain. The Japanese government also plans to start vaccinations in late February, but it will take time for the vaccines to reach many people. The only way to contain infections is to do what one can now. This is also a shortcut to economic recovery.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 8, 2021.