Stay vigilant to avoid resurgence of virus after state of emergency

Medical professionals are still walking a tightrope. Strict vigilance is needed to ensure that easing restrictions on people’s activities does not lead to a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to lift the virus state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area on March 21 as scheduled. The state of emergency, issued in January and extended twice, will fully end after being in effect for 2½ months.

Suga cited the fact that the number of newly infected people and the utilization rate of hospital beds are both no longer at Stage 4, the most serious government-designated stage for categorizing infection levels, as reasons for lifting the emergency.

In Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, the number of newly infected people has largely remained unchanged but the figure is increasing in some municipalities. The crowds in downtown areas are said to be increasing. Some have pointed out that the prolonged state of emergency has left the public inured to the situation.

Apparently, Suga has decided that further continuation of the state of emergency would have very little impact.

There have been a number of cluster infections at medical institutions and elderly care facilities. Infections with coronavirus variants are also slowly increasing.

In order to determine the sources of infections, large-scale PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is essential. Signs of the spread of infection should be identified by repeatedly conducting the tests in downtown areas and other locations.

The government has been taking measures with emphasis on restaurants, but this has not been able to contain the spread of infections. Using only the conventional measures now in place, a resurgence of infections is likely inevitable.

Has there been any progress in securing hospital beds? Have relevant authorities made sufficient efforts to care for COVID-19 patients who are self-isolating at home? The government should seriously reflect on the delay in its measures.

The government has revised its basic response policy and to prevent a resurgence, it has proposed strengthening measures against coronavirus variants, which are considered highly infectious; promoting vaccination; and improving the medical system. The government said the rate of testing for the variants will also be increased.

These measures will be meaningless unless they actually function. The central government must take concrete measures in cooperation with local governments. It is urged to keep a close eye on the progress of relevant measures.

Even after the state of emergency ends, it is crucial not to let our guard down. Last year, the Tokyo metropolitan government canceled the hotel reservations it had made for overnight medical treatment after the first state of emergency ended. In the subsequent spread of infections, Tokyo faced a shortage of recuperation facilities.

The central government is now limiting the maximum number of people entering the country to 2,000 per day, including Japanese returning from abroad. It is important to proceed with caution in easing the border control measures.

Suga asked people to continue to refrain from having meals in large groups. In some areas, people are still being asked to refrain from nonessential and nonurgent outings. The key to gaining the public’s cooperation will be for the government to take all possible measures.

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