Govt must take lead, rather than just relying on individuals’ efforts

While the government’s decision not to call for tough restrictions on people’s activities is welcome, it must thoroughly implement necessary measures such as vaccinating people, securing hospital beds and ensuring testing capacity.

The government must take the initiative in containing the spread of infections so that medical care services are not placed under strain once again.

The daily number of new coronavirus infections has surpassed 100,000. Experts say that the nation’s seventh wave has just started.

Based on these factors, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at Friday’s meeting of the government’s Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters that the scope of people eligible to get a fourth vaccine shot will be expanded. Currently, people 60 and older, as well as those who are 18 to 59 and have underlying medical conditions, are eligible for the fourth dose. The prime minister said that this program will be expanded to include about 6 million people under 60, such as medical and nursing care workers.

“We will protect the elderly and other people at high risk, while also securing enough staff for the medical care system,” Kishida said, adding that the government will not impose quasi-emergency priority measures and other strict restrictions on people’s activities.

It is understandable that the government aims to strike a balance between keeping economic activities going and controlling infections. The currently prevailing BA.5 omicron subvariant is considered highly contagious but to have a low risk of serious illness. The decision has probably been made with these factors in mind.

It cannot be said that simply relying on precautions taken by individuals is enough to contain infections without imposing behavioral restrictions. It is important for the government to take the initiative in presenting an approach for measures against infections to local governments and medical institutions.

Although the government said it has secured a sufficient quantity of vaccines, it has been pointed out that there are inconsistencies in the way they are allocated to regional areas. It is hoped that the central government will cooperate with local governments to establish a supply system allowing vaccines to be swiftly delivered to people who wish to get them.

A COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Novavax Inc. has been approved, following those by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna, Inc. Currently, however, just over 60% of the population has received three doses of a vaccine. Among people in their 30s and younger, the figure is hovering at a low level of just over 30% to around 50%.

Efforts should be accelerated to promote the vaccination of young people by providing detailed information such as vaccine efficacy and side effects.

In the sixth wave, the number of seriously ill patients increased with the rapid spread of the omicron variant, causing a shortage of hospital beds in urban areas in particular. In order to prevent a similar situation from happening again, the government should start preparing now to secure hospital beds and medical workers.

The government has also decided to set up more than 100 temporary free testing sites nationwide, mainly at major train stations and airports. It is hoped that members of the public will take advantage of this service if they are going to meet elderly people and others who are at high risk of serious illness.

During the summer holidays, large-scale events and festivals are planned in various places. It is hoped that organizers will make sure to implement measures to prevent infections and that participants will not fail to take basic steps.