As quasi-emergency measures end, need for health precautions remains

It will be the first time in 2½ months that quasi-emergency measures will not be applied anywhere in the country. When social activities return to normal, people must remain vigilant to prevent a resurgence of the novel coronavirus cases.

The government has decided not to extend the quasi-emergency measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus that are currently in place in 18 prefectures including Tokyo, Aichi and Osaka. The latest quasi-emergency measures, which have been issued in 36 prefectures overall starting with Okinawa and two other prefectures in early January, will end on Monday.

The government said the measures will end based on new criteria that allow the lifting of measures even when the utilization rate of hospital beds exceeds 50%, as long as the number of infected patients is on a downward trend.

Cluster infections linked to restaurants and bars have been drastically decreasing, prompting questions regarding the continuation of priority measures centered on requests to shorten their business hours. The decision to end the measures is appropriate.

However, unlike last summer’s fifth wave of infections, the number of cases has not yet decreased sufficiently. With the new fiscal and school year approaching, which will see an increase in the movement of people, there is still concern that the number of cases will rebound.

It will be problematic if there is a shortage of hospital beds after the restrictions end. Hospital bed capacity and outpatient services for patients with fever must continue to be improved so that a system is in place under which appropriate medical care can be provided.

More than 70% of elderly people have already received booster COVID-19 vaccinations. The figure is 90% at elderly care facilities, where cluster infections have been prominent. In addition to elderly people, vaccinations must be provided as soon as possible for people with chronic diseases who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms.

The distribution of oral coronavirus medication, which is key to containing the pandemic, has been slow. The government is planning to secure 3 million doses of oral drugs. It is necessary to deliver sufficient quantities to medical institutions and pharmacies nationwide so that patients can use medication that is appropriate for their condition from the early stages of infection.

It is important to take a flexible approach based on the knowledge acquired so far when social activities resume.

The government has decided not to request a cap on audience numbers at large-scale events, as long as infection prevention measures, such as prohibiting shouting at the venue, are thoroughly implemented. In workplaces with adequate infection control measures, the government will not require companies to identify close contacts among staff.

However, the government plans to recommend the use of vaccine certificates and proof of negative tests when traveling and dining out. A combination of COVID-19 vaccinations and tests must be utilized effectively.

At the peak of the sixth wave, testing could not keep up with the pace of infections, and many people with symptoms were unable to get tested.

The government has requested manufacturers to increase production and plans to secure 350 million antigen test kits in the next six months.

It is important to make these kits readily available at pharmacies so that people can take the test immediately when they need it.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 19, 2022.