The state of emergency that had been declared across Japan due to the spread of the novel coronavirus was lifted in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, excluding areas such as Tokyo and Osaka, on May 14.
It had been just over a week since the declaration had been extended, but the decision to lift it was made because the numbers of newly infected people had dropped to levels prior to when the state of emergency was declared.
In addition to lifting the declaration in the majority of the prefectures across the country, the government indicated its criteria for easing the restrictions for the first time. The three categories are each region’s state of infection, health care delivery system and oversight of the spread of infection.
The government presented specific numbers of newly infected people to determine the state of infection, but no figures for the other two criteria, out of consideration for the fact that the number of beds vary from region to region.
Going forward, understanding the situation on the medical front in real time will be essential in determining when to lift the state of emergency declaration for the remaining prefectures.
Of the remaining eight prefectures, Osaka and others have come up with their own criteria for lifting requests for businesses to suspend operations. Such requests fall under the jurisdiction of governors, and there are cases in which they may differ from the central government’s criteria for lifting the state of emergency declaration. The national government and governors must work together to prevent confusion.
In large metropolitan areas, there are concerns that people will become more lax about refraining from certain activities with the partial lifting of the state of emergency declaration. There already is data showing that the number of people out on the weekday following the “Golden Week” holiday had increased slightly.
It is expected that the lifting of the state of emergency declaration by the end of May will not be possible if the number of people infected with the virus increases. Requests to the public to refrain from going out and businesses to suspend operations are still in place, and their strict implementation are vital.
With the extended period of business suspensions comes increased economic impact on business operators and employees. Assistance to alleviate the burden of rent on small- to mid-sized businesses, and support for students, must be acted upon swiftly.
In areas where the state of emergency declaration has been lifted, social and economic activities should be resumed in phases. There is a need for each industry to create infection prevention guidelines and make sure people know about them.
We will have to balance our workstyles and lifestyles with measures to prevent infection in the long-term. We must figure out ways to reduce the risks of infection while continuing social and economic activities, and carry them out.
Because there are many people who only have slight symptoms of COVID-19, and even people who are asymptomatic can spread the virus, it is difficult to prevent infection. In some countries, there have been cases in which the number of infected people increased again shortly after they resumed economic activities.
It is important to take flexible measures based on the situation at hand so that Japan does not see an explosion of infections.