Greater Sense of Urgency Needed than ever before on Coronavirus

In response to a surge in coronavirus infections, a new state of emergency has been declared. The government should not hesitate to implement such measures in the future if necessary.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has added seven prefectures in Kansai, Chubu and other regions to the list of areas subject to the state of emergency. This follows the declaration for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures.

As the number of people infected with the coronavirus in Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures has also been rapidly increasing since the beginning of the year, the central government’s decision is reasonable. The state of emergency was declared for most areas at the strong request of their prefectural governors, which illustrates the central government’s slow response in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

If infections are allowed to expand in cities, which serve as hubs for people’s movement, it will inevitably spread to regional areas. The areas covered by the latest state of emergency have large urban sites with large populations and must take every possible step to contain infections.

Efforts by each business and individual are important, such as shortening operating hours at eating and drinking establishments, teleworking, and refraining from unessential and unurgent outings. The government needs to send a message that resonates with the people more strongly and call for their further cooperation.

Even after the state of emergency was declared for Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures, the pace of decrease in the number of people who went out has reportedly been slow, compared with when a state of emergency was declared in April last year. The government’s stance of trying to limit those subject to restrictions appears to be behind this.

The number of infected young people is rapidly increasing. Since young people often manifest no symptoms or only mild symptoms, they may have become lax in their activities during the year-end and New Year periods. It is important to strengthen their resolve again, so that they do not spread the virus to people who have a high risk of becoming seriously ill.

In line with the declaration, the government has raised the amount of money it pays to eating and drinking establishments that respond to its requests to shorten their business hours, from up to ¥40,000 a day to ¥60,000. It also plans to set up a subsidy program for businesses associated with eating and drinking establishments, to pay up to ¥400,000 to suppliers of food ingredients, wet towels and other products.

The state of emergency is having a profound impact on the economy. The government intends to submit to the ordinary Diet session a bill to revise the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza that stipulates measures to support stores that comply with its requests for the suspension of operations. Many stores have been facing hardships due to the coronavirus crisis. The government should continue its long-term support.

Coronavirus variants believed to be highly contagious have been raging in the world. In Japan, they have been confirmed among people who entered the nation from Britain and Brazil. It is necessary to strengthen surveillance to prevent the spread of the variants.

With the number of people infected with the virus increasing, hospital beds for people with serious symptoms are filling up. An increasing number of patients are being forced to stay at home because a place to hospitalize them cannot be found. Fatigue among medical workers is also growing.

The Osaka prefectural government will soon establish a human resources bank to register nurses involved in coronavirus treatment, while the Tokyo metropolitan government will make its three top hospitals into facilities for coronavirus treatment. It is vital to strengthen these efforts in each region and improve the medical system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 14, 2021.