Govt must present specific steps for accelerating pace of boosters

The ongoing sixth wave of infections with the novel coronavirus cannot be overcome only by restricting people’s activities. It is important for the government to present specific measures to accelerate the pace of vaccinations.

The government has decided to extend the period of quasi-emergency priority measures for 13 prefectures, including Tokyo, by three more weeks through March 6.

The number of cases continues to rise — although there are exceptions to this trend, such as Hiroshima and Okinawa prefectures, where quasi-emergency priority measures began earlier than in the 13 prefectures that will get extensions. The number of seriously ill patients is increasing, and the tallies of deaths on recent days have surpassed those seen during the peak of the fifth wave last summer.

The number of cases in which hospitals cannot be found to take in emergency patients has reached a record high. This has a serious impact on even non-COVID emergency medical services.

Even if the overall number of cases begins to decline in the immediate future, the number of seriously ill patients and deaths, particularly among the elderly, is expected to continue to rise for a while. The situation remains unpredictable.

The central government has held talks with the Tokyo metropolitan and Osaka prefectural governments, announcing that it will set up more temporary medical facilities to secure a combined total of 1,000 additional beds. The government said that it will ask hospitals across the country to send nurses to these facilities, which are meant to accept elderly and pregnant patients.

The Tokyo and Osaka governments are both facing a shortage of hospital beds. In Osaka Prefecture in particular, almost all beds reserved for patients with mild or moderate symptoms are occupied. It is hoped that the two local governments will boost their responses as soon as possible so that they can treat more patients.

The key to responding to the sixth wave is to administer booster shots, which are expected to prevent patients from being hospitalized or developing symptoms. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that his government aims to administer 1 million doses of COVID-19 boosters a day by the end of this month. It cannot be denied that he made the vow too late, but it is hoped that the government will ensure this target is achieved.

The government said it will move workplace vaccinations forward to mid-February. Has it already made necessary preparations? It is still unclear when vaccines will be delivered.

Top priority must be given to administering boosters to users and staff at nursing care facilities. It is important for the government to grasp the actual situation and try to eliminate bottlenecks, rather than just announcing its plans.

Until now, there has been a lack of oversight by the Cabinet, leaving the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in charge of practical operations. The administration has reportedly increased the number of members in a team to support Noriko Horiuchi, the minister in charge of vaccinations, to facilitate information-sharing among ministries and agencies in the future. While deepening cooperation with local governments, the central government must deal with the pandemic with a sense of urgency this time.

An increasing number of nursery schools are temporarily closed amid the pandemic. The government said it will increase subsidies for providing alternative childcare services in which children are taken care of at schools other than their own or at community halls.

When nursery schools suspend operations, parents cannot go to work even if their children are not infected. It is hoped that every possible effort will be made to deal with this issue to prevent social activities from stagnating.

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