Make progress in vaccination drive after state of emergency extension

Has the third state of emergency, which was positioned as a “short-term focused” solution, led to the curbing of infections? Its effectiveness and challenges should be carefully examined. At the same time, the vaccination campaign must plow ahead as quickly as possible.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to extend the state of emergency that is currently covering Tokyo and Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures until the end of May. Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures, where infections are expanding, will also be added to the list of areas covered by the state of emergency.

The latest state of emergency has been a measure designed to restrict private rights in a wide area, but with the extension, some of the restrictions will be revised. Large commercial facilities that had been requested to suspend operations will be allowed to stay open until 8 p.m. Events that were not supposed to permit spectators will be allowed to welcome fans as long as attendance is up to 5,000 people or within 50% of venue capacity.

However, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Osaka prefectural government have said that they will continue to request large commercial facilities to close, among other measures. Many people may be perplexed by the government’s repeated policy changes and the measures that local governments are implementing on their own.

In areas where a variant of the novel coronavirus has become prevalent, there has been an increase in the number of severely ill patients in their 20s to 50s, in addition to elderly patients. The central government must do its best to explain the situation so that the different measures being implemented by local governments do not lead to confusion.

Vaccination, which is the most promising way to stop the spread of infections, has not progressed as expected. The vaccination of medical personnel, which was to be completed by the end of March, is only 20% finished. Less than 1% of the 36 million elderly population has been vaccinated so far.

Why is it not progressing? There is an urgent need to analyze in detail the causes of the delay and resolve the impasse.

Deliveries of U.S. firm Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, which local governments will use in the vaccination campaign, will be tripled. The government must provide sufficient support to ensure smooth vaccinations.

The government says it will set up mass vaccination sites operated by the Self-Defense Forces in Tokyo and Osaka starting on May 24, but the details are still unclear as to who can apply for the vaccinations and how. The government should work out the plan as quickly as possible and announce the details.

It is also essential to rebuild the system of medical institutions. When hospitalization cannot be secured for COVID-19 patients, it is important for the government to take the lead in coordinating efforts across wide areas, beyond prefectural borders.

In order to prevent COVID-19 patients who are recuperating in accommodation facilities or at home from becoming seriously ill, a system should be set up for practitioners to provide home visits and online medical care. In areas where the number of infected people is rapidly increasing, a system must be established to dispatch medical personnel and set up temporary recuperating and medical facilities.

It is important to expand testing and establish a system for the swift detection of infected people to control the spread of the disease. If people have even the slightest symptoms, they must be tested and quarantined if necessary.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 8, 2021.