All national dailies reported over the weekend on comments made by senior GOJ officials regarding the COVID-19 resurgence. Prime Minister Abe told the press on Friday night: “We are monitoring the situation with a high degree of concern. We will try to detect and treat virus carriers swiftly. For that purpose, testing will be conducted thoroughly at hospitals and other facilities.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said on a TV program on Saturday that “what matters most is the number of patients in serious condition and hospital bed occupancy rates” of each prefecture, suggesting that a state of emergency is not necessary right now since hospital capacities are not overwhelmed. He also emphasized on NHK on Sunday that the government has no intention to suspend the ongoing Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign because it is necessary to prevent the regional tourism industry, which he said is “on death’s door,” from collapsing at all costs. “It will take a while to reduce the virus risk to zero,” said the government spokesperson. “The nation will go nowhere unless we strike a balance between infection prevention and economic reconstruction.”
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura noted on Saturday that the GOJ will solicit epidemiologists’ advice soon on whether it should ask the public not to travel across prefectural borders during the Obon holidays in mid-August. The cabinet minister also said on Sunday that people living in major cities should avoid returning to their hometowns in the countryside to visit their elderly relatives so as not to spread the virus, adding, however, that people can go on family vacations as long as they take proper measures to prevent spreading the virus.
According to the Health Ministry, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients increased in 39 prefectures during the seven-day period ending on July 29, with the occupancy rate in Saitama and Osaka topping 40%. The number of hospitalized patients increased by 27 times in Miyazaki, 20 times in Kumamoto, and 13 times in Okinawa from the previous week. Because the number of patients in serious condition increased by 2.3 times across the country in July, hospital authorities are reportedly growing alarmed by the possibility of a shortage of beds.
In a related development, all dailies reported on Saturday on a GOJ coronavirus taskforce advisory subcommittee meeting held on Friday, during which doctors, scientists, economists, and other experts established four levels to characterize the COVID-19 infection situation depending on the numbers of new cases and healthcare capacities. The panel members reportedly shared the view that Tokyo and Osaka are currently at Level 2, for which hospital capacity is increasingly under strain due to the steady increase in new patients. The participants agreed to create standardized quantitative indexes for prefectural governments regarding when to take additional steps to contain the virus, including the number of patients aged 60 or older, the positivity rate, the number of hospital beds for patients with serious symptoms, and the percentage of virus carriers whose transmission routes cannot be traced.
Yomiuri wrote that Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura and subcommittee Chairman Omi took the lead in creating the four levels based on the belief that creating standardized guidelines for prefectural governors to swiftly take the necessary steps to curb the spread of the virus is imperative to avoid imposing another nationwide state of emergency on account of the devastating impact it would have on the economy. The daily said some GOJ officials are afraid that establishing concrete numerical indexes could be “tricky” since they may automatically force the central or prefectural governments to take certain measures without giving due consideration to their adverse effects on economic activities. Asahi wrote that the Kantei is hesitant to take infection control steps that would be detrimental to restarting the economy.