Prevent resurgence of infections by easing restrictions in stages

If the lifting of the state of emergency causes people to let down their guard, it would all have been for nothing. It is necessary for the government to continue urging people to take thorough measures to prevent infections with the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to lift the state of emergency declared for the coronavirus pandemic in six prefectures, including Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures, at the end of February. Tokyo and three of its neighboring prefectures will continue to be under the state of emergency, with the aim of lifting it on the March 7 deadline.

The number of newly infected people in the six prefectures has decreased significantly compared to when the emergency was declared on Jan. 13. The burden on medical institutions has also been reduced to some extent. The decision to lift the declaration in the areas where infections have settled down is understandable.

The government plans to gradually ease the requirement for restaurants to shorten their operating hours, which currently has them close by 8 p.m., in the areas where the emergency is being lifted. The government also plans to loosen restrictions on the number of spectators at large-scale events.

Many businesses are suffering economically due to the impact of shortening their hours and of people refraining from going out. It would be appropriate to gradually return to daily life while closely monitoring the infection situation in each area.

When the first state of emergency was lifted in May last year, economic activities were gradually resumed, but this led to the second wave in the summer. This mistake should never be repeated.

The spread of the virus has not been contained. Vaccinations have just begun. In order to avoid another state of emergency, it is important for each and every member of society to stay cautious and diligently work to curb infections.

The government’s subcommittee on measures against the virus has called for people to choose to go out at times that are quiet and to places that aren’t busy as a way to prevent infections resurging. It also urged people to refrain from welcome and farewell parties and sakura viewing parties.

The main cause of the increase in the number of infected people during the year-end and New Year holidays is believed to be year-end parties. Careful attention must be paid when dining out as droplets can easily spread in such settings.

The government is planning to conduct polymerase chain reaction tests in a wide range of places, including bustling streets in urban areas and facilities for the elderly. The government has said it will pay for the cost of the tests and outsource them to a private testing company.

If an outbreak can be detected at an early stage throughout a city, prompt countermeasures can possibly be taken. The testing system must be put in place as soon as possible.

Various mutations have been found throughout the country. There is a risk that highly infectious viruses may become mainstream in the future. The surveillance system must be strengthened.

The prime minister did not hold a press conference to announce the lifting of the emergency, instead speaking with reporters only in a simple setting. He should be more proactive in communicating with the public in his own words in order to deepen their understanding of the measures to control infections.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 27, 2021.