Smooth out virus testing system to deal with 6th wave of infections

Appropriate testing for the novel coronavirus is essential to treat infected people and maintain socioeconomic activities. The government must urgently resolve the bottleneck in testing that is occurring in many areas.

The government has announced a new policy on testing in response to the surge in novel coronavirus infections.

If a young person with no chronic illness develops a fever, the local government will provide an antigen test kit for the person to self-test. The central government said that if the test is positive, the person can consult a doctor over the phone or online and recuperate at home.

During this sixth wave of the virus, the outbreak of the omicron variant has rapidly increased the number of infected people, and while many people show mild symptoms, the occupancy rate of hospital beds has only risen. The government’s new policy may be a pragmatic response, but will people recuperating at home be left there if their condition suddenly changes?

Since the government allows more people to recuperate at home, a system must be developed to ensure that they can receive treatment in case of sudden changes in their condition. It is also necessary to clarify how to deal with people who have difficulty procuring fever medication or food.

The number of infected children has increased, and the number of nursery schools closed has greatly exceeded the figure during the peak of the fifth wave. This is having a major impact on socioeconomic activities as parents are unable to leave their children and cannot work. In many cases, families are stuck at home.

Measures must be devised so that nursery schools where someone is infected can continue to open as much as possible. For example, test kits can be distributed to childcare workers and children at the schools where there has been an infection, and childcare workers and children testing negative are allowed to be at the schools.

It is important to secure sufficient quantities of the kits and distribute them smoothly. The government said it has asked domestic and foreign producers of test kits to increase their production under purchase guarantee agreements. The government needs to hasten to improve the situation in which there are not enough kits and the possibility of infection cannot be confirmed.

The government has decided to allow quasi-emergency priority measures to prevent the spread of infections to be implemented for 18 more prefectures, including Hokkaido and Osaka, to enable them to take actions similar to those required under a state of emergency. The number of prefectures covered by the quasi-emergency measures has now expanded to 34.

The priority measures are designed to allow compulsory measures, such as to have restaurants shorten their opening hours. The impact on vendors who supply food and other supplies to restaurants is also serious.

The central government should assess the effectiveness of the priority measures against the highly infectious omicron variant and not repeatedly extend the period quasi-emergency measures will be in effect on the grounds that there is no other effective way than to shorten opening hours.

It is said that 80% of municipalities are expected to complete booster vaccinations for the elderly by the end of February. Even though the number of infected people has increased, and doctors and nurses are busy dealing with the situation, it is important to secure personnel to inject the vaccines to ensure that the vaccinations are administered as planned.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 26, 2022.