Govt must Address Medical System’s Needs, clearly Guide Public on Virus

It is unfortunate that there was no strong sense of urgency about what should be done now to alleviate the anxiety over the infectious disease.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivered a policy speech at the ordinary Diet session. “With the cooperation of the people, I myself will be at the forefront of the fight [against the novel coronavirus],” Suga said.

In response to the rapid increase in the number of infections, Suga declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other prefectures on Jan. 7, and in seven more prefectures, including Osaka, on Jan. 13. The focus is on whether the spread of infections can be contained by Feb. 7, when the state of emergency is scheduled to end.

Local governments under the state of emergency have requested restaurants to shorten their business hours and close by 8 p.m. The central government is promoting telecommuting and asking people to refrain from unnecessary and nonurgent outings, including during the daytime.

However, crowds in many places have not decreased significantly. To many people, the government’s request for self-restraint seems half-hearted. The prime minister’s remarks at previous press conferences may have given the impression that it is okay to go about life as usual, except for eating out at night.

In the policy speech, Suga expressed his intention to reduce infections and lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, but as for concrete measures to achieve this, he only announced existing measures such as requesting people to refrain from going out. This is not enough to convey a sense of urgency to the general public.

The government must plan for a variety of scenarios, including such cases as when a state of emergency is not effective, and prepare countermeasures.

The health care system is under increasing strain. There has been an increase in the number of patients who have reportedly been forced to stay at home because they were unable to find hospitals to admit them, even though they were infected with the coronavirus.

The government must take the lead in efforts to increase the number of hospitals that accept COVID-19 patients and dispatch doctors and nurses to such medical institutions by promoting cooperation among hospitals. The development of temporary facilities specializing in COVID-19 treatment may also be worth considering.

Regarding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Suga said, “We will stage an event that will bring hope and courage to the world.” He should keep in mind that if the pandemic is not contained in Japan, the Games will be in jeopardy.

In terms of economic policy, Suga identified decarbonization to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the digitization of public administration as the “next engines of growth.”

There is great significance in expanding the introduction of renewable energy and creating jobs in new industries. It is important to link the systems of the central and local governments to speed up administrative services.

Suga’s stance on working toward medium- and long-term goals is commendable, but the path to realizing the goals is not clear. Suga should clarify the specific methods and procedures in Diet debates.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 19, 2021.