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Editorial: Japan should brace for prolonged battle against coronavirus

  • March 13, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus a pandemic as it sweeps through countries and regions across the globe. While the U.N. health agency had previously used the term for influenza outbreaks alone, it has moved to raise the alarm by demonstrating its awareness, through the exceptional use of the word, that the spread of coronavirus infections from one country to another is now out of control.

The foundations for coronavirus countermeasures that Japan should be taking remains the same as before and after the pandemic declaration. That is, the national and local governments are both urged to get an accurate grasp of infected patients, strive to prevent the spread of infections, provide medical treatment to patients with severe symptoms, respond to social confusion, and take other measures — all in a level-headed manner.

 

While the WHO has announced its views on the novel virus strain at times, its “control tower” failed to appropriately function. At an emergency committee meeting in late January, the U.N. body stopped short of issuing a state of emergency calling on countries to take stronger action, even though coronavirus cases had begun to be reported outside of China. The WHO even waited until the novel virus infections had spread to over 110 countries and regions and Italy imposed travel restrictions throughout the nation, to finally decide to issue the pandemic proclamation.

 

After the WHO called a new strain of influenza a pandemic in 2009, it came under fire as the symptoms turned out to be milder than expected. It is likely that the U.N. agency was wary of making another pandemic declaration based on lessons learned from that time. Although the nature of the new coronavirus largely remains mysterious, the WHO carries grave responsibility for initially underestimating its risk and delaying an early response among countries and regions.

 

While the fatality rate of the new coronavirus is not that high, it can be transmitted from carriers with no explicit symptoms and sometimes causes severe conditions. If hordes of infected people flock to medical institutions, the facilities will lose their ability to function. The virus therefore is troublesome from the viewpoint of public health.

 

Given the global movements of people, money and goods these days, it is impossible for the new virus to be confined in a single country or region. Experts have projected a prolonged battle against the novel virus. Countries and regions around the globe should join hands in tackling the menace in a concerted manner.

 

The U.S. government has unveiled a travel ban from Europe, with the exception of Britain, to American soil. While border controls are essential, we should also take heed to the possibility that such a move could also deal a severe blow to the global economy and give rise to friction between countries.

 

In Japan, there are no signs of the spread of coronavirus infections easing anytime soon, requiring us to remain cautious. In the meanwhile, we have amassed some knowledge and lessons from our earlier response to the coronavirus crisis, including from the fiasco of the government’s failed attempts to contain the new virus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined at Yokohama Port, south of Tokyo. The government is also urged to consider cooperating with countries and regions that are dealing with the spread of viral infections and others facing a potential outbreak.

 

The WHO has called for unwavering efforts to contain the new coronavirus even after the pandemic declaration. Our struggle against the virus will continue until we have effective remedies and vaccinations at hand. We should share our wisdom beyond national borders while trying to prevent people and society from falling into panic.

 

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