Work to ensure medical treatment amid omicron variant’s rapid spread

The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus has begun to increase again. It is necessary to strengthen infection control measures and establish a system to provide appropriate medical care services to all patients.

The government plans to apply quasi-emergency priority measures to the three prefectures of Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, where infections are spreading. The number of cases has also risen in other parts of the nation, including Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture, with the number of new cases nationwide surpassing 4,000.

In the three prefectures, the infection is believed to have spread from people connected to U.S. forces. It is quite natural that Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, in his telephone talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urged U.S. forces in Japan to take thorough preventive measures, including the introduction of restrictions on going out.

Infections have also been detected at U.S. military bases in other prefectures. The Japanese government should cooperate with the United States to urge these U.S. bases to steadily implement measures to prevent the virus from spreading to neighboring areas.

There has been a spate of community-acquired infections in various parts of Japan. Regarding cases in Okinawa Prefecture, the original form of the virus and most subsequent variants appear to have been almost entirely supplanted by the omicron variant as of the end of last year.

It has been revealed that while the omicron variant is highly contagious and many people get infected even if they have received two doses of vaccine, the omicron variant has a lower risk of severe symptoms than the earlier delta variant.

However, in the United States and Europe, where omicron has become the dominant strain, the number of daily infections has ranged from hundreds of thousands to 1 million, and the number of hospitalized patients is increasing.

To deal with the omicron variant, measures need to be taken, such as identifying those who are likely to become seriously ill from among the many people with mild symptoms, so that they can be treated as early as possible.

The government has revised its policy of hospitalizing all people infected with the omicron variant, allowing infected people in areas where the virus has been expanding to recuperate at home or in accommodation facilities. Given the characteristics of the omicron variant, this is a reasonable decision, but recuperation at home can lead to the infection of other family members.

During the fifth wave of infections in summer last year, a number of people died at home after their condition suddenly worsened. It is important for local governments to secure enough hotels and other accommodation facilities to allow people with mild symptoms to recuperate there.

For those who are forced to recuperate at home, it is necessary to ask doctors and pharmacies in local communities to cooperate in ensuring patients are offered online medical examinations and medicine deliveries.

Vaccines are the key to preventing the spread of infections. Booster shots for elderly people at nursing facilities have started nationwide. Efforts must be made to ensure that vaccines are distributed as soon as possible.

Japan has repeatedly suffered from shortages of vaccines. Isn’t it possible to produce in Japan the vaccines currently in use? The government must seriously consider this issue.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 7, 2022.