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Editorial: Continue virus prevention as emergency set to be extended

  • May 2, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:25 p.m.
  • English Press

Given the fact that the spread of infections with the new coronavirus continues, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his intention to extend the nationwide state of emergency. As infections have not yet been contained, an extension must be inevitable.


Abe told reporters: “The situation on the medical front is severe. We need continuous cooperation from the public.” Arrangements for setting an extension of about a month will be made, with the duration being officially decided on Monday.


Based on the revised law on special measures on new types of influenza, the government declared a state of emergency for seven prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, on April 7, and extended it across the nation on April 16.


Two weeks have passed since then, and the effect of asking people to exercise self-restraint over going out has gradually appeared, as the pace of increase in the number of cases has slowed. Many people estimate that an explosive spike like that seen in the United States and Europe has been avoided in this country.


It can be said that changes in individuals’ behavior have contributed to realizing such a solid result.


Measures implemented tenaciously by the government and medical institutions are likely to have created a situation in which Japan’s death toll from the virus has remained relatively small, compared with other countries.


Should the declaration be lifted at this stage, however, the number of people infected with the virus could increase again and the efforts made so far could be wasted.


On average, people infected with the virus have been hospitalized for two to three weeks. As a result, most hospital beds remain occupied, leaving medical systems strained nationwide. It is essential to curb the pace of increase in the number of patients and improve systems to save those with serious symptoms.


As an immediate measure, a government panel of experts pointed out that it is necessary to keep in place strict restrictions on movement in areas where the virus is spreading. Measures including encouraging people to wash their hands and avoid congested spaces should be maintained.


As business closures will be prolonged, there is a growing possibility operators in such industries as restaurants and hotels will fall into financial difficulties.


If they lose their jobs or income, many may also feel they have lost their raison d’etre. To prevent unrest from spreading in society, the government should make the utmost effort to support financing for small and midsize companies to preserve employment opportunities.


It is important for the government to consider an exit strategy in preparation for restoring people’s daily lives and economic activities. Some people will get tired of continuing to avoid going out. Such a strategy is necessary in order to encourage people to further cooperate in restricting their daily activities.


Reducing the number of infected people to an earlier level so that authorities can trace the individual chains of transmission. Creating situations such as intensive care units being able to preserve a sufficient number of beds. Conducting adequate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. The goal will be to create such an environment.


While continuing to make various efforts, the government should turn to areas where the spread of infections is under control to a certain extent, easing its requests over outings and allowing stores, large-scale facilities and other businesses to resume their operations in a phased approach.


In the United States and European countries, discussions are under way as to how to resume economic activities. The European Union has set conditions for reopening, which include not only slowing the rate of increase in infections, but also ensuring there is capacity to conduct large numbers of tests and that medical systems can function sufficiently. Japan should also refer to these conditions.


It is undeniable that the Abe Cabinet’s response to the infectious disease has been inconsistent.


The government has caused public concern over ensuring medical services and necessary supplies such as protective clothing. It is true that the government failed to promptly implement economic measures by giving up its initial plan to provide ¥300,000 to each household suffering a decrease in income, instead deciding on a cash payment of ¥100,000 to each member of the public across the board.


Public trust in the government must be indispensable at a time in which society as a whole is working to prevent the virus from spreading further. As prime minister, Abe should explain to the public details of various measures and their effects in an easy-to-understand manner based on a clear strategy.


This infectious disease has a huge impact on children’s schoolwork.


Most of the nation’s elementary, junior high and high schools remain closed. Many students have not yet met their new teachers or classmates even though a new school year started last month.


Many schools are working on distance learning. However, it is difficult to say that they are making sufficient progress because they do not have enough equipment and expertise. There are also gaps in this approach depending on regions and schools.


It is advisable that schools adopt an approach under which they give first priority to sixth-grade elementary school and third-year junior high school students, among other grades, to encourage them to come to school, as they are about to graduate next spring. Schools can then gradually expand the scope of grades eligible for resuming classes.


The government is considering starting the school year in September. However, various adjustments would be necessary to realize this change because recruiting employees and administering qualification tests are premised on students graduating from school in March. It is necessary to discuss this issue from various angles.


It has become an issue that some businesses continue operating, refusing to comply with requests to close. The National Governors’ Association has argued that the law on special measures on new types of influenza should be revised to allow them to issue instructions that would include punitive provisions when business operators defy requests for closures.


Even though some business operators are not complying with such requests, many members of the public are cooperating by exercising self-restraint in outings.


Does this current situation require powerful measures like those implemented in the United States and European countries? It is of great significance that the law stipulates that private rights may be restricted only to a minimal degree. Hasty revisions to the law must be avoided.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 2, 2020.

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