The Japanese government decided to extend the current state of emergency declaration in 10 prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka by a month, to March 7.
The number of new novel coronavirus cases per day has seen a downward trend, but hospitals remain under a lot of strain. The extension is unavoidable.
When declaring the latest state of emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga emphasized that he would “definitely improve the situation in a month.” If he is going to ask the public and business operators to hunker down for another “round” of the state of emergency, then he must sort through the problems that exist now and apply the lessons learned from them.
Cluster infections at dining establishments have decreased, and experts believe that the government’s request that eateries close early at night has had a certain level of impact.
Meanwhile, however, the numbers of people going out during the day and on weekends and holidays have not gone down as much as they did during the state of emergency that was declared in the spring of 2020. The rate at which teleworking has been implemented by companies has also been lower this year.
At first, the government emphasized the risks of infection from dining out at night, which sent the message that going out during the daytime was not a problem. Perhaps the impact of that misleading message has had a lasting effect. Also striking was the irresponsible conduct, lacking a sense of tension, exhibited by some politicians.
The goal of cutting back the percentage of commuters by 70% and having them switch to teleworking also failed. Small- to mid-sized businesses seem to be concerned that shifting to teleworking would lower productivity.
Recently, cluster infections have been on the rise at facilities for older adults. The central and local governments must collaborate to reinforce a system in which, when someone tests positive for the novel coronavirus, all facility patrons and staff are promptly tested and experts who can provide advice on infection measures are dispatched.
With the state of emergency extension, business owners find themselves in even more straitened circumstances. Assistance measures for such businesses need to be expanded. Deliberations should be conducted on increasing the amount of subsidies provided to businesses that cooperate with the government’s request to cut back on their operation hours based on their business scale. In addition, providing thorough assistance for people who are in dire straits is crucial.
The government has indicated that the lowering of the state of infections and the strain on the medical system to the equivalent of “Stage 3” (surge in infections) would be one benchmark for lifting the state of emergency declaration.
But a hasty lifting of the declaration runs the risk of inviting another large-scale spread of the infection. Even considering the balance between reducing coronavirus cases and reinvigorating the economy, there is a need to further curb the number of people with the novel coronavirus.
The Osaka Prefectural Government has announced its own criteria that it hopes to meet for a speedy lifting of the state of emergency. But when the national and local governments put out different messages, it causes confusion among the public.
The Japanese government must carry out thorough verification and explanations of its measures, and continue to put its efforts into gaining the public’s cooperation.