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Editorial: Put economy on recovery track after emergency lifted

  • May 26, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 2:12 p.m.
  • English Press

Vigilance against the new coronavirus must not be lowered yet. It is important to put the economy on a recovery track while strengthening medical care and virus testing systems to prepare for a new outbreak of the virus.


The government has lifted the state of emergency that was in place in five prefectures. This is the first time in about 1½ months that the government has lifted the state of emergency nationwide since it was first announced for seven prefectures on April 7, under the revised law on special measures against new types of influenza.


Some local governments have not met one of the criteria for lifting the state of emergency, that the number of new cases of infection be below 0.5 per 100,000 people over the preceding seven days. However, the number of people infected with the new coronavirus is on a downward trend around the nation, and some leeway has begun to be seen in the number of hospital beds, a situation that had been severe.


Measures to prevent the spread of infection through the cooperation of residents can be said to have produced certain results.


“Daily socioeconomic activities will be restored in new ways,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.


In its guidelines for resuming economic activities, the government said it would gradually ease restrictions on outings and allow events to be held.


For concerts and other events, the number of visitors will initially be limited to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, and the number will be increased every three weeks.


It will take time to develop effective vaccines and medicines. If corporate activities are restricted for a long period of time, the impact on the economy will be immense. It is important to steadily resume social and economic activities while paying attention to the prevention of infections.


Many industry groups have set guidelines for resuming operations. It is essential for the government and industries to work together and implement appropriate measures in accordance with the type of business and the size of shops.


The government has asked people to refrain from moving across prefectural borders until the end of May. It also said traveling between the five prefectures and other prefectures should be avoided until mid-June. The government has decided it is necessary to keep a close watch on the state of infections.


It is essential to avoid situations that could cause cluster infections, such as closed spaces, crowded places and settings in which people come in close contact with each other. The government must raise awareness of the importance of wearing masks and ensuring that people keep an appropriate physical distance from each other.


The second waves of infectious diseases are said to have caused more damage than the first waves in the past. The prime minister should declare a new state of emergency without hesitation if there are signs of a resurgence in infections.


It is important to steadily build a society that is resistant to infectious diseases.


Online shopping and telecommuting are becoming more prevalent. Companies must accurately grasp such changes in society and examine the possibility of new business development.


Manufacturers of electrical equipment have started making masks and medical equipment using their clean rooms. Companies must overcome the crisis by taking advantage of the technologies they have developed. They should also promote cooperation with other industries.


The spread of the new coronavirus has forced medical institutions to take unprecedented steps. The number of hospitalized patients exceeded about 10,000 nationwide in April. Although there were only about 2,000 beds at hospitals designated to treat infectious diseases, local governments managed to secure about 18,000, including beds at general hospitals.


In the future, many hospitals are expected to return their beds to general use. The government should study a flexible response, such as quickly switching beds to be used for infected patients in case of another virus outbreak.


It is indispensable, mainly for prefectural governments, to draw up action plans to deal with emergencies in advance.


The use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are conducted to determine whether a person is infected, temporarily stalled because the testing capacity could not keep up with the increase in the number of infected people. A system for monitoring the situation regarding infections must be improved urgently. Antigen tests should also be actively used, as the test yields faster results than PCR.


Some patients are asymptomatic, and the full picture of infections is unknown. Another focus of attention is antibody testing, which checks antibodies in the blood to confirm a history of infection. This test is surely helpful in figuring out what measures to take, since it makes it possible to estimate how the infection is spreading.


Given that the battle against the virus will continue for a long time, the central government and local governments must review their past measures and prepare for the next pandemic.


The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is responsible for medical and employment issues, while other ministries, mainly the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, are taking the initiative in implementing economic measures. The vertical division of ministries and agencies should be eliminated in order for the government to strengthen its function as a command center.


When to begin easing entry restrictions to Japan is a major issue for the future. It is difficult to say that the epidemic has subsided in some other countries, including western countries and emerging economies. On the other hand, foreign visitors to Japan have decreased sharply, which is having a severe impact on the restaurant and hotel industries.


China and South Korea have approached Japan about mutually easing restrictions on entry for business purposes as a first step.


The government must make a careful decision, taking into account the actual situation of infections in each country and Japan’s readiness to accept the visitors.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 26, 2020

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