Devise Measures to Prevent Infections even after State of Emergency is Lifted

There is no point in repeating the process of lifting the state of emergency, only to have infections spread again. During the reextended emergency period, the government should examine the relevant steps taken so far and come up with effective preventive measures.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed his intention to extend again the state of emergency currently in place for Tokyo and Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, this time for about two weeks. The extension period will be officially decided after experts are consulted on Friday, he added.

In these areas, the number of new infections has decreased significantly since mid-January, but the rate of decline has recently slowed. It is necessary to identify what is lacking in the measures taken so far, and to build a system to prevent a resurgence of infections after the emergency is lifted.

Clusters continue to be found in elderly care facilities. To what extent are regular polymerase chain reaction tests being conducted on staff and specialists dispatched to facilities where infections have been discovered? The central and local governments are urged to investigate the situation in various parts of the country and take thorough measures to deal with the issue.

New variants of the virus that are believed to be highly contagious are gradually spreading in Japan as well. It is important to improve testing systems in each region and prevent the spread of the variants through early detection and isolation.

Spring is also the season when people move around a lot, going on to higher education, job hunting or changing roles. In order to prevent infections rising again, the actions of each individual are key. It is necessary for the central government to thoroughly explain the purpose of the measures and ask for cooperation.

Suga was criticized for not taking the initiative when the state of emergency was declared in January because he made the decision at the behest of the governors of Tokyo and three prefectures. This time, he indicated his intention to extend it without waiting for a request, a move that could be interpreted as him trying to get ahead of the governors.

This is no time for the central and local governments to be fighting to take the initiative. They should cooperate with each other on concrete measures to curb infections.

Another problem is that the criteria for lifting the state of emergency are unclear. The central government has set as a condition that the target areas must be out of Stage 4, the most serious government-designated stage for categorizing the level of infection. The government is urged to clarify the reason for the extension even though this criterion has largely been reached already.

The number of seriously ill patients is on the decline, but the medical system remains overwhelmed. It is essential to make further efforts to secure hospital beds. Public health centers have been too busy coordinating the hospitalization of patients and have not been able to adequately track routes of infection. Improving efficiency through measures such as outsourcing some of their work is to be encouraged.

The extension will impose an even greater burden on the people. Among restaurants that continue to shorten their operating hours, some must be facing difficult business conditions. It is important to work hard to support them during the extension.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 5, 2021.