Take lasting, concrete action during newly extended state of emergency

Though it came late, it is commendable that the government has announced the expansion of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and the strengthening of public health centers. However, what is important is how they will be put into practice.

Efforts during the re-extension of the state of emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic must be linked to preventing infections even after it is lifted.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to extend the state of emergency again to March 21 in the Tokyo metropolitan area, following the first extension that was to run through Sunday. “We will do our utmost to bring the situation under control in the next two weeks,” the prime minister said.

In Tokyo and three of its neighboring prefectures, the state of emergency will have been in place for more than two months since the Jan. 7 declaration, including last month’s extension.

So far in that period, the daily number of newly infected people has decreased and the pressure on hospital beds has eased to some extent, but none of this can be said to be sufficient. It will take some time before the vaccine becomes available across the nation. It is essential to continue to implement measures to bring down the number of cases.

The government has revised its basic response policy on the virus to include a provision for PCR testing to be carried out on a wide range of people, including asymptomatic people. This is a step toward expanding testing to detect signs of a resurgence of infections, but it has come too late.

Some local governments are already conducting blanket testing at elderly care facilities and other places. Referring to such examples, the government should establish an environment where tests can be conducted as soon as possible in places with a high risk of infection, such as bustling districts in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The policy also explicitly includes strengthening the system of public health centers. It is assumed that public health nurses will focus on managing the health of COVID-19 patients and tracing the routes of infection, while telephone counseling and other jobs will be outsourced to the private sector.

However, if the announcement of a new policy ends up as mere words, it will be meaningless. The government has already set up a system for the exchange of personnel between public health centers, but how this system is implemented should be examined.

In addition to expanding government measures, it is essential for people in their daily lives to refrain from nonessential and nonurgent outings and for restaurants to cooperate in shortening their operating hours.

Some downtown areas are reportedly seeing an increase in the number of people out and about. Some people must have gotten used to the pandemic.

However, it should not be forgotten that the efforts of each and every member of society will lead to the earliest possible lifting of the state of emergency and the containment of the virus.

With the prolonged state of emergency, various businesses have fallen into hardship. The government needs to swiftly provide cooperation subsidies to restaurants and lump-sum payments to companies whose sales have plummeted. There is more than ¥2 trillion left in the government’s reserve funds for this fiscal year. It must be effectively utilized.

The end of the fiscal year is also the time when people renew employment contracts. It is important to continue to support the employment of nonregular workers to avoid massive unemployment as well.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March. 6, 2021.