Will leaving steps up to local govts help prevent spread of coronavirus infections?

The eighth wave of novel coronavirus infections is believed to have begun. The central and local governments must strengthen their medical systems and prepare against the spread of infections.

New infections nationwide topped 100,000 in a day for the first time in two months. The increase is particularly conspicuous in eastern Japan, including Hokkaido and the Tohoku region, and more than 50% of COVID-19 hospital beds are filled in some areas. It is also worrisome that infections are spreading among younger people — including children, an age group for whom vaccinations are not steadily progressing.

Influenza patients are increasing in some areas. The suspension of school classes has begun to be reported, and there are fears that flu and coronavirus infections will spread simultaneously. Preemptive measures are vital to prevent strain on medical services.

The central government has announced new measures tailored to the infection situation. If the burden on medical services increases, prefectural governments will declare the strengthening of measures and ask people to refrain from going out. If the situation does not improve, they will declare a state of medical emergency and ask people to limit their outings to a minimum.

People with a fever who are at low risk of becoming severely ill will be asked to test themselves with a COVID-19 kit and recuperate at home, to avoid medical institutions becoming overcrowded with patients. Those who test negative for the coronavirus will be checked for flu via telephone, online or through other medical consultation services.

These measures may be intended to prevent strain on medical services, but it is hard to shake the impression that the central government has left it up to local governments and patients. The central government should exercise leadership and take the initiative in dealing with the pandemic.

Currently, a test kit that can check for the coronavirus and influenza simultaneously is used only at medical institutions. If people are advised to recuperate at home, the kit should be readily available at locations such as pharmacies.

More medical institutions are needed that can treat people with high fevers and other symptoms as outpatients. Situations must be avoided in which a patient recuperating at home becomes seriously ill without being examined.

Such cases have been highlighted as a problem before. There must be much more that the central government should do.

The public has become deeply weary of the pandemic over the past three years, and is therefore less alarmed by the spread of infections than before. If this situation continues, necessary infection measures might be eased.

The central government must take the lead in heightening the public’s vigilance against the spread of infections ahead of the year-end and New Year holidays, when travel and events increase. Each individual must be urged to reconfirm their basic anti-infection measures, by avoiding activities with a high risk of infection, such as dining with a large group of people, and ensuring thorough ventilation.

The slow COVID-19 inoculation rate has surfaced as an issue. Anxiety about adverse reactions is said to be the major factor. The central government should disseminate detailed information about the effects and side effects of getting vaccinated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 21, 2022)