Devise concrete measures to battle 5th wave of coronavirus pandemic

It has been 1½ years since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The approach of restricting people’s social activities by declaring a state of emergency has reached its limit. Comprehensive measures are needed to prepare for the fifth wave of infection.

Tokyo has been under a fourth state of emergency, but the number of new daily infection cases has surpassed levels seen during the fourth wave this spring. There have even been days when the daily tally has exceeded 1,200. Infections are also increasing in three prefectures in the Tokyo metropolitan area — Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa — and in Osaka Prefecture, where less strict priority measures are being implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

The number of people moving around in these areas has not decreased significantly. The vaccine rollout, which is seen as the best hope in the fight against the pandemic, has not achieved sufficient results to contain the spread of the coronavirus due to vaccine supply shortages. There are concerns that the arrival of summer holiday season could further increase the movement of people.

Unless new measures are taken, it will be impossible to prevent infections from spreading again this summer. It is important for the government to draw up a concrete plan on what it will do by when, including such measures as expanding the number of coronavirus tests and making effective use of new therapeutic drugs, rather than focusing solely on vaccines.

Recently, serious illness among people in their 50s, for whom vaccinations have not progressed, is becoming a problem. A system should be established to detect infected people at an early stage and quarantine them by making it easier for the working generations to be tested mainly at their workplaces.

As part of measures for the summer vacation season, the government is offering free tests until the end of August for passengers flying from Haneda, Kansai and other airports to Hokkaido and Okinawa Prefecture. It is important to further enhance and improve such tests.

It is also time to review measures for eating and drinking establishments that serve alcohol to customers. Many such establishments have implemented infection control measures over the 1½ years of the pandemic. Rather than uniformly asking them to suspend their operations, the government should also consider examining their actual situations based on scientific data, and allowing businesses whose safety is confirmed to continue operating.

More hospital beds should be made available for patients with severe coronavirus symptoms. In case there is a rapid increase in the number of patients, a wide-ranging system should be established to transport patients across prefectural borders.

A therapeutic drug that can be used in the early stages of infection with the coronavirus has been approved in Japan for the first time and is now available for use. To receive the drug, patients must be hospitalized and put on an intravenous drip, but the drug has been confirmed overseas to reduce the risk of death by 70%. It should be actively utilized in Japan as well.

Experts have proposed a new method of detecting new coronavirus variants and identifying areas of widespread infection at an early stage by measuring the virus levels in sewage. This method is said to have already been put into practical use in the United States and the Netherlands.

The Japanese government needs to incorporate these new technologies that are being studied in Japan and abroad to deter infection.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 21, 2021.