Inconsistencies in emergency steps must be resolved to avoid confusion

It is of course vital for the government to strengthen measures against novel coronavirus infections, but it will not be able to gain the public’s understanding if its measures contain inconsistencies. It is important for the government to explain to the public in an easy-to-understand manner the reasons behind its decisions and the aims of these measures when asking for cooperation.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to add Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures to the list of areas covered by the latest state of emergency, which is currently in place in Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures.

The government initially said that it would be appropriate to apply emergency-level priority measures to Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures. However, the government did an about-face after listening to experts and decided to expand the state of emergency. This means that the government’s initial judgment that it would be enough to apply priority measures for the three prefectures turned out to be too optimistic.

The number of coronavirus cases is surging in the three prefectures as a variant believed to be highly contagious is spreading in regional areas. It is natural to implement thorough measures to contain the variant within the prefectures to prevent it from spreading to other areas.

The government has also decided to add Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto to the list of prefectures in which priority measures are being applied. However, such a decision was not made for Nagasaki, Fukushima and other prefectures, even though their prefectural governments had asked the government to implement the measures in their areas. Some local governments have opposed the central government’s decisions and are calling for the prompt application of priority measures to contain infections. Differences between the two sides in terms of the sense of urgency are apparent.

Firstly, there has been a conspicuous lack of consistency in measures taken by the central and local governments during the third state of emergency.

When the latest state of emergency was declared in April, Suga said the aim was to “stop the flow of people in a focused manner over a short period of time.” The government called for dining establishments to shorten business hours, while large-scale commercial complexes were urged to suspend operations. However, the number of cases did not decrease, forcing the government to extend the state of emergency. The government relaxed restrictions to allow large-scale commercial facilities to resume operations.

In contrast, the Tokyo metropolitan and Osaka prefectural governments did not adopt the same stance as the central government, continuing a policy to seek cooperation from large-scale commercial facilities to suspend operations. This development has given an impression that the two sides are not working together and has caused confusion among the public over which measures to observe.

The metropolitan government has relaxed restrictions to allow amusement and theme parks to resume operations. On the other hand, however, it still calls for arts facilities, museums and movie theaters to remain closed even though their visitors enjoy viewing works without speaking and the facilities have anti-infection measures in place. It is unclear why such a line has been drawn between the two sides, prompting dissatisfaction from museums and movie theaters.

Cultural Affairs Agency Commissioner Shunichi Tokura has criticized the metropolitan government’s stance, citing the fact that there have been no reported cases among visitors to these cultural facilities. “Cultural and artistic activities are a vital means to help maintain the health and well-being of the public as a whole,” he said. Many people probably feel the same way.

Cooperation from every member of the public is essential to prevent infections. To this end, it is important for the central and local governments, medical professionals, experts and any other parties concerned to proceed hand-in-hand and present steps that the public should take to bring the pandemic under control.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 15, 2021.