Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to extend the state of emergency declared following the surge in coronavirus infections by one month to March 7.
The central and local governments, medical professionals and the public need to cooperate in making efforts to pave the way for bringing the pandemic under control within this one-month period.
The government has lifted the state of emergency as planned in Tochigi Prefecture, where the number of people infected with the virus has decreased, while continuing it in 10 other prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, where infection figures remain at a high level. The utilization rate of hospital beds also continues to be high. Extending the state of emergency for a certain period of time is unavoidable.
The central government has decided to generally maintain its basic policy outlining specific measures, and continue to ask residents to refrain from nonessential and non-urgent outings, and to request that eating and drinking establishments shorten their operating hours. The measures focused on people dining out together can be said to have had a certain effect.
To fully lift the state of emergency, it is essential not only to further reduce the number of infected patients but also to improve the medical care system, which has been in dire straits. Many people cannot be hospitalized even if they want to be because there are no vacant beds. There has been a series of cases of people dying while waiting at home for hospitalization.
The central and local governments need to persistently urge private and other medical institutions to secure beds. Regarding patients who are forced to stay on the waiting list, they should cooperate closely with medical associations and other organizations to set up a system to provide home visits and online medical services by private practitioners.
It is also a problem that hospitals cannot be found for the transfer of coronavirus patients who are no longer in serious condition. Many elderly people cannot recover their physical strength and need to stay in the hospital or undergo rehabilitation. Small and midsize private hospitals should actively accept such patients.
It is vital for medical professionals to share roles and eliminate the “clogging up” of coronavirus treatment. The prime minister and prefectural governors must present clear strategies. While encouraging patients with mild symptoms to stay at hotels for treatment, they should consider promoting the construction of temporary medical facilities.
The central government has been focusing on measures against coronavirus clusters, examining infection routes and people who had close contact with infected persons, and isolating people who have caught the virus. However, as the number of people infected via unknown routes has increased, public health centers in Tokyo and other parts of the country that are suffering from a shortage of staff have been forced to narrow the list of targets for their surveys.
To contain the spread of coronavirus infections at facilities for elderly people and avoid community-acquired infections, it is necessary to seriously consider ways to drastically increase the number of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, and detect and isolate infected people. It is also urgent to strengthen the surveillance of coronavirus variants.
While many people are making efforts to prevent coronavirus infections, several ruling party lawmakers were found to have stayed at eating and drinking establishments in Tokyo until late at night. Careless behavior should be avoided.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 3, 2021.