Amid surging coronavirus cases in the capital region, the Japanese government has called another state of emergency — effective until Feb. 7 — for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures: Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba.
Daily infection numbers in the capital topped 2,400 people on Jan. 7 to set another record high. The state of emergency has come too late, and the government bears a grave responsibility for its tardy response to the alarming situation.
Questions remain over the government’s decision to limit the latest declaration to Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures. Coronavirus case numbers remain high in regions including Aichi and Osaka prefectures in central and western Japan, respectively, and some governors are calling for their prefectures to fall under the renewed state of emergency. The national government should swiftly respond to their calls.
The new state of emergency’s measures primarily focus on stepping-up requests for eateries and other establishments to close early in the evenings. If businesses do not comply, governors can issue stricter instructions to them and even announce the names of non-compliant firms. In a bid to reduce person-to-person contact, companies are requested to enhance their teleworking outlay, and the cap on attendees allowed at events is being lowered.
To increase the emergency declaration’s efficacy, it is essential that support schemes are improved to complement requests for reduced operating hours. While the amount of “cooperation money” provided to businesses adhering to requests will be boosted, aid provisions set to expire in January and February include rent reliefs and a special measure in the employment adjustment subsidy program for companies with furloughed employees. It is imperative that seamless measures are delivered by utilizing reserve funds and other resources.
Apart from restaurants and bars, assistance must be provided to businesses that will be affected by the state of emergency, such as cinemas and performing theaters.
The government will reportedly base its decision to lift the state of emergency on whether the capital’s infection status has improved to a level equivalent to “Stage 3” — a surge in infections — on its four-point severity scale. Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura cited an example of the daily new infections in Tokyo getting below 500 people as a criterion for that decision.
But are those indices really appropriate? The government must not forget the lessons learned from seeing a third wave of coronavirus infections sweep far and wide after the number of daily new infections had yet to decline sufficiently.
A level in which a viral resurgence can be contained must be aimed for; this means not deciding to lift the state of emergency before a “Stage 2” situation in which Tokyo’s daily new infections fall below 300 people.
During the state of emergency, the government must keep a close eye on whether there’s a declining trend in the number of people in normally busy areas and on how strained medical systems are, and swiftly strengthen measures as required. The national government is urged to cooperate closely with the governors of prefectures subject to the emergency declaration.
Medical professionals are complaining that the health care system is already falling apart. The government must work hard to contain infections inside and out. The coming month is crucial for settling the third wave of infections.