Reinforce medical care services as coronavirus emergency widens

It is absolutely necessary to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect all the lives that can be saved. Measures should be swiftly taken to strengthen the medical care system, including the establishment of temporary medical facilities with hospital beds.

The government has decided to expand the current state of emergency to eight more prefectures, including Hokkaido, Aichi and Hiroshima. The state of emergency will now cover 21 prefectures in total, while less strict priority measures to prevent the spread of the virus will apply to a total of 12 prefectures.

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of the response to the coronavirus, said, “I’d like to ask you, including younger generations, to take thorough measures to prevent infections, as anyone could be infected with the virus anytime and anywhere.”

The delta variant of the coronavirus is highly contagious, and even people in younger generations have become severely ill due to infections with it. If the medical care system becomes overburdened, not only the treatment for coronavirus patients but also emergency care for patients with other sudden illnesses or injuries in traffic accidents would be disrupted. Each member of the public should renew their vigilance to protect their own lives and those of their families.

Based on the revised Infectious Diseases Law, the central government and the Tokyo metropolitan government have requested medical institutions for the first time to cooperate in securing hospital beds and dispatching medical staff to care for coronavirus patients.

In Tokyo, hospital beds for coronavirus patients with severe symptoms are nearly at full occupancy, and there are more than 20,000 people recuperating at home. To deal with sudden changes in patients’ conditions, temporary medical facilities, with large numbers of hospital beds that can be overseen simultaneously, are effective. The Tokyo metropolitan government needs to set up such facilities as soon as possible, while the central government should help the metropolitan government for that purpose, through such measures as securing nurses to staff them.

The central government intends to review the bellwethers that are used to assess infection situations, and which serve as a basis for declaring or lifting a state of emergency.

As 40% of the public has completed two doses of the vaccine, the government’s goal of completing vaccinations of everyone who wishes to get vaccinated in October to November is becoming a reality.

Consequently, the government plans to add new indices, such as the number of people who have been vaccinated and those who are seriously ill, to the five current indicators, which include the degree to which medical care services are burdened and the number of new infections.

It would be understandable if the indices were tweaked after improving the medical care system, but the current situation has not reached that point. Careful decision-making is vital to ensure that measures to deal with the infection situation are not neglected due to overly relaxed indicators that the government is considering.

There are calls for the introduction of a lockdown that would impose penalties and restrict outings — but this would be a questionable move.

Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government’s subcommittee on novel coronavirus measures, has mentioned a “new legal mechanism for individuals to avoid the risk of infection,” and the National Governors’ Association, the Democratic Party for the People and other entities have also called for lockdowns.

Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution. It would be a serious problem if it were to be restricted by mandatory measures with penalties. Calm discussions are indispensable.

The impact on social and economic activities would be enormous. Looking at other countries, it is obvious that lockdowns have not been the decisive factor for bringing the pandemic under control. It is imperative that all efforts be made to improve the current infection situation and improve the medical care system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 26, 2021.