While the public exercises restraint, the government must deliver action

Less than a month after the state of emergency fully ended, novel coronavirus infections continue to spread rapidly. Recognizing that this is already the fourth wave of infections, measures should be thoroughly taken.

In Osaka Prefecture, more than 1,000 people have been newly infected with the virus on consecutive days. The pace of growth is faster than that during the expansion in the third wave. The central government intends to apply the pre-emergency priority measures in the four prefectures of Aichi, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama in addition to other prefectures, including Osaka and Tokyo, where they are already in effect.

Even when the state of emergency completely ended on March 21, there were concerns that the pandemic had not been sufficiently brought under control and a rebound in the number of infection cases was inevitable. With a large number of people moving around ahead of the new fiscal year’s start in April, the early arrival of the fourth wave cannot be said to have been unexpected.

The spread of coronavirus variants is also a cause for concern. They are believed to be highly contagious, and even young people could become seriously ill. Experts predict that in May the majority of infections in many regions will be of people infected with variants.

Infection clusters have occurred not only at eating and drinking establishments but also at workplaces, facilities for the elderly and schools. Recently, the numbers of people seen even in areas where the priority measures have been applied have not significantly decreased.

Unless the massive spread of infections stops, the central government will have to consider declaring another state of emergency.

In order to contain the spread of infections, it is important to call on people to refrain from going out for nonessential, nonurgent purposes and to wear masks at dining establishments except when actually eating or drinking. However, it is essential for the central government not only to urge the public to take action, but also to take care of issues such as expanding PCR tests and securing sufficient hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

It was pointed out at an early stage that medical institutions need to divide their roles according to the symptoms of patients. However, since many private hospitals are cautious about accepting patients and there are not enough nurses, coordination remains insufficient. Strong leadership from prefectural governors and medical associations is needed.

Isn’t it possible to devise ways such as building temporary facilities to be effectively used for taking care of patients with mild or moderate symptoms? The central government should lead the way by exercising wisdom for these purposes.

Vaccines, which are seen as the ultimate weapon against the virus, have finally begun to be administered to the elderly. However, due to insufficient supplies, Japan lags far behind other countries in inoculations. A shortage of medical professionals to administer vaccinations is also expected. The vaccination system must be put in place as soon as possible.

So far, the public and businesses have cooperated from their respective standpoints to overcome the second and third waves of infections through such measures as refraining from going out and shortening operating hours.

In the meantime, there are serious questions about the political and administrative authorities, who have failed to find effective solutions. The central government must fulfill its responsibilities.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 16, 2021.