Govt must ensure people keep guard up during extended emergency period

Although the number of new infection cases has declined, the figure remains higher than earlier peaks. It is vital to remain vigilant and make efforts to expand the medical care system to deal with COVID-19 patients.

The government has decided to extend to the end of this month the COVID-19 state of emergency currently in effect in 21 prefectures, including Tokyo.

The state of emergency in Miyagi and Okayama prefectures will be lifted on Sept. 12, and is to be downgraded to less strict priority measures, based on a new set of criteria presented by the government’s subcommittee to deal with coronavirus control measures. In areas subject to priority measures, if infections are on a downward trend, the government will extend the time that alcohol can be served at eating and dining establishments.

The number of new cases has been decreasing nationwide since the beginning of this month. However, the number of seriously ill patients remains high, mainly in areas where the state of emergency will be extended. Nationwide, 130,000 people are recuperating at home. There have been a large number of home deaths because patients have not been able to be hospitalized. It could be said that the situation is far from reassuring.

There is a shortage of doctors and nurses on the front line of medical services. When the Tokyo metropolitan government asked medical institutions in Tokyo for cooperation, more than 100 hospitals offered to send staff. There is an urgent need to effectively utilize human resources and facilitate the establishment of temporary facilities with hospital beds.

A system needs to be established in which an antibody cocktail therapy that reduces the severity of the disease can be provided swiftly.

A major British pharmaceutical company has applied to Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry for approval of a new antibody drug administered via an intravenous drip. The safety of the drug should be confirmed as soon as possible so that it can be used widely.

Japan has only just reached the point at which half of its population has received two shots of vaccine. An unvaccinated patient in his late teens with a pre-existing disease has died in Osaka Prefecture. A vaccination site for young people set up by the Tokyo metropolitan government was inundated with applicants. The current situation in which young people cannot receive vaccinations even if they want to do so has become clear.

Some local governments have been forced to scale down their vaccination campaigns due to vaccine shortages. The central government needs to constantly review its supply system to ensure that vaccines are distributed as quickly as possible.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a basic policy of easing restrictions on social activities when he announced the decision to extend the state of emergency. After confirming the effects of the measures in pilot events, the government intends to ease such restrictions as the number of people who are allowed to participate in events, even during the state of emergency, on the condition that attendees present vaccination certificates or negative test certificates.

In issuing certificates, care should be taken to ensure that those without digital devices are not left behind. It is also important to ensure that people who wish to be tested can do so immediately.

With the vaccination campaign underway, it is only natural to resume economic activities as much as possible. However, if an announcement of the resumption of economic activities is made at a time when there is no sign of the coronavirus being brought under control, the public might conclude that the government’s steps are inconsistent. The government should ensure that such a move will not lead to the public letting their guard down.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 10, 2021.