Is it appropriate to ask senior citizens to refrain from outings?

What can be done to maintain social and economic activities while avoiding putting pressure on the medical care system? The central and local governments must strengthen cooperation and do everything they can to implement necessary measures.

Amid a rapid surge in novel coronavirus infections, the central government has announced new support measures for prefectural governments. If governors issue their own pandemic-related declarations to implement tougher COVID-19 measures, the central government will provide support such as by dispatching officials.

The number of new daily cases has exceeded 200,000 nationwide. In many areas, the medical care system has been under strain, and mass infections have occurred at elderly care facilities. It is reasonable that the government has taken a proactive stance to deal with the situation, but there are many issues to be addressed.

In Osaka Prefecture, the occupancy rate of COVID-19 hospital beds has surpassed 50%, and the prefectural government has asked elderly people to refrain from nonessential outings. The central government has also said that one example of strengthened COVID measures under a prefectural government-issued declaration is asking the elderly to refrain from activities that carry a high risk of infection.

The authorities might have based their decision on the fact that elderly people are more likely to develop serious symptoms. The priority, however, should be on ensuring a system in which the elderly can promptly receive necessary medical treatment.

The number of infected people with mild symptoms is rapidly increasing, and fever clinics at health care facilities have been inundated with such patients. An expression has even been coined to describe the growing number of people who are unable to get tested: “testing refugees.”

The central government has decided to distribute free test kits at fever outpatient facilities, and people will be asked to test themselves at home.

Sufficient test kits have been secured, according to the government, but they have not reached all the people who need them because medical institutions have not received them yet. It is necessary to urgently put a system in place that allows kits to be distributed at pharmacies or sent to the homes of people who wish to receive them.

At some hospitals, beds for seriously ill COVID patients are filled with people with mild symptoms who have been hospitalized due to underlying medical conditions. Even when the symptoms of such patients have subsided, the hospitals cannot transfer them to other facilities, making it difficult for the hospitals to accept new patients.

Local governments must secure facilities for people whose health has improved to ensure that hospital beds are being used efficiently.

The proportion of people in their 20s and 30s who have received a third dose of a COVID vaccine remains low. The demographic accounts for a high number of cases. It is important to expedite vaccinations among the younger generations.

The coronavirus crisis has entered its third year, and the nation has experienced many waves of the pandemic. With each wave, certain issues have been flagged, such as the need for a rapid testing system, the efficient use of hospital beds, and vaccine promotion. However, these problems have yet to be resolved.

If the authorities are saying they are going to maintain socioeconomic activities and leave the explosive surge of infections unchecked, it could result in an outcome in which social and economic activities cease to exist. It is important to act quickly to establish a system of testing, vaccines, and treatment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2022)