We must not let omicron’s ‘mild’ symptoms lull us into complacency

Even if people infected with the new omicron variant of the novel coronavirus tend to have a lower risk of becoming seriously ill than those infected with earlier types of the virus, the variant could spread explosively. It is definitely necessary to contain infections and minimize the impact on society.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced measures against the omicron variant. In addition to shortening the interval for booster vaccine shots and strengthening a system for infected people to recuperate at home, the government plans to keep in place until the end of February current border control measures that prohibit new entries by foreign nationals in principle.

Vaccine boosters have been started, mainly for medical workers and the elderly, but only 0.7% of the population has received a booster shot. In Okinawa Prefecture, doctors and nurses have been absent from work in growing numbers, mainly due to being infected with the omicron variant themselves, seriously affecting medical services in the prefecture.

The central government intends to ask local governments to set up large-scale vaccination sites and accelerate the pace of additional vaccinations. It should make sure that those who want to get vaccinated can do so as soon as possible.

In Japan, the dominant strain of infections is rapidly shifting from the delta variant to the omicron variant. The proportion of people with mild or no symptoms is high, but if infections spread, the number of people with severe symptoms will inevitably increase.

It is dangerous to think lightly that “there is no need to worry because it seems to only cause mild symptoms.” If the number of infected people increases rapidly, more people, including close contacts, will have to take time off from work, making it difficult to maintain the activities of society.

First of all, it is vital for each person to thoroughly implement basic infection control measures, such as wearing masks, frequent handwashing and good ventilation.

The strengthening of the system for infected people recuperating at home is intended to avoid a situation in which patients, including those with serious symptoms, are denied hospitalization due to a shortage of beds. It is important to deepen cooperation with local doctors, nurses and pharmacists who deliver medicines, to make it possible to respond to any sudden deterioration in the condition of people who are recuperating at home.

Regarding how to deal with infected people, the central government has changed its stance to allow them to leave the hospital without being tested, saying they are unlikely to infect others 10 days after the onset of symptoms.

Close contacts are still required to stay at home for 14 days. However, in consideration of the impact on the activities of society, it is advisable to consider relaxing this requirement as well.

Testing is more important because the omicron variant often infects people even after two doses of vaccine. It is necessary to secure a sufficient testing system so that people who feel uneasy can receive tests immediately.

The school entrance examination season has already begun. Under the most recent measures, the government intends to ask universities and other educational institutions to conduct multiple makeup exams as a remedy for examinees who are unable to take the exams on schedule.

Universities and other institutions need to give sufficient consideration to examinees so that they will not suffer any disadvantages at this turning point in their lives.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 12, 2022.