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Editorial: Local government officials’ strength tested in their support for residents

  • April 24, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:57 p.m.
  • English Press

We must prepare for a long battle against the novel coronavirus. The burden on municipal officials who deal with residents is increasing, just as it is for medical workers who protect patients’ lives.

 

Public health centers managed by prefectures and ordinance-designated cities are suffering from a serious labor shortage. Their phone lines have been flooded with calls from residents asking about their symptoms and testing, and the number of calls have been exceeding the capacity of the lines.

 

In some cases, health center officials are facing difficulties in tracing infected people’s contact with others because there is a lack of cooperation from them in describing their movements. These officials are exhausted.

 

Support desks for small and medium-size companies are also flooded with businesspeople who come to consult and apply for loans. If local governments are slow to respond, some businesses may find themselves stuck in a cash crunch.

 

Some local governments have assigned officials in charge of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which have been postponed, to handle such tasks at public health centers and support desks for small and midsize companies.

 

It would also be useful to assign staff at facilities that are closed due to the coronavirus crisis to work in busy sections and to utilize retired staff. Using flexible thinking while devoting personnel to relevant work is urged in this regard.

 

Dealing with virus-related tasks is not the only service provided by local governments. They cover a wide range of services, including support for poor families and the elderly. It is important to identify priorities and ensure that the quality of services provided to local residents is not compromised as much as possible. It can be said that this is a phase in which the underlying strength of local government employees is being tested.

 

Local governments are encouraged to maintain their operations as much as possible by introducing rotating shifts and other measures, and to ensure that crucial support for residents will not be delayed.

 

It is also necessary to pay attention to measures to prevent infections at government offices. The Otsu city government will completely close its main office building after the infection spread among its employees. When this event occurs, the impact on the lives of residents will be significant.

 

Many local governments have installed plastic sheets and acrylic boards at their consultation counters. If residents have to wait for a long time, it is important to make efforts to prevent them being forced into closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings, such as through distributing numbered tickets for the queue.

 

The role of prefectural governments in supporting municipalities, which are on the front lines of responding to residents, will also become important. There is also an increasing number of moves between prefectural and city governments to set up joint headquarters to handle virus-related issues. They have to share their challenges and facilitate the implementation of policies.

 

Prefectural governments with capacity to spare should also consider sending staff to municipalities.

 

The central government has started distributing fabric masks to the public, but defective products have been found, such as some with stains, and local governments have been forced to deal with the problem. It is hoped that the central government will act with a sense of urgency so as not to hinder the operations of local governments.

 

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 24, 2020.

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