Govt must make every possible effort to prevent fourth wave of infections

Efforts to stop a fourth wave of novel coronavirus infections are at a critical juncture. Infections must be contained with priority measures that focus on specific regions.

The government has decided to apply pre-emergency coronavirus measures for the first time in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures. The priority measures are scheduled to be in place for one month from April 5, targeting six cities, including Osaka, Kobe and Sendai.

In the three prefectures, each governor has asked eating and drinking establishments to shorten their business hours, but infections have not abated, and there has been a pressing need for hospital beds. In Osaka Prefecture, the number of infected young people has risen eight-fold in 10 days. This may be due to an increase in the number of opportunities for dinner gatherings during the season of graduations and personnel reshuffles.

With the application of priority measures, the requested closing time of eating and drinking establishments will be moved up by one hour from the current 9 p.m. Governors will issue orders to those that do not comply with the request. First of all, it is important to strengthen infection-prevention measures at dining establishments.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has announced that he will ask dining establishments in the city of Osaka to refuse entry to customers who are not wearing masks or ask such customers to leave. The governor also intends to ask customers to lift and lower their masks while dining without removing them.

It may not be easy for dining establishments to ask customers to leave or make other requests. Customers themselves need to take the initiative in observing the rules, such as by wearing masks and refraining from dining in large groups.

In Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, an increasing number of cases of highly contagious coronavirus variants have been detected. Infections with the variants can lead to prolonged hospital stays. A sufficient number of hospital beds should be secured as soon as possible to avoid further strain on the medical system.

To prevent the spread of the infectious disease across prefectural borders, temporarily restricting travel to and from other areas should also be considered.

There is a large disparity in the capacity for variant testing among municipalities. Testing has not kept up with the pace of infections in some areas. The expansion of testing should be expedited with the cooperation of a wide range of private testing organizations, in addition to the tests conducted at central and local government facilities.

In Yamagata and Okinawa prefectures, the number of people infected with the coronavirus has been increasing rapidly as well. Cases are starting to increase even in the Tokyo metropolitan area, where a state of emergency was recently lifted. It is no wonder that a fourth wave of infections could occur at any moment.

In the past, a vicious cycle has been repeated in which the virus spread from young people to the elderly, which led to an increase in the number of seriously ill patients and a pressing need for hospital beds. The government must avoid falling into the same trap and being forced to declare a state of emergency again.

A moment’s lapse in judgment or carelessness can worsen the situation. It is important for the central and local governments to make sufficient preparations with a strong determination to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 2, 2021.