There is no prospect of the novel coronavirus pandemic abating anytime soon. To escape the situation in which the government repeats the cycle of asking for self-restraint and then lifting that call, the government should construct a strategic system for providing medical care.
So far, Japan has been hit by three waves of infections. Responses have lagged behind, and the expansion of testing and securing of hospital beds have been delayed. The fight against the coronavirus is a long-term battle. The problems that Japan is facing must be solved for the long term.
In conjunction with the lifting of the state of emergency at the end of Sunday in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, The Yomiuri Shimbun compiled a seven-point proposal that includes specific measures to be implemented from now on.
It is essential to contain the number of infected people via thorough testing and to create a system that allows for prompt treatment in case of infection. Expanding the number of hospital beds will be a top priority in order to avoid straining the medical care system.
Local governments have secured only about 3% of the total number of hospital beds in the nation for coronavirus patients. The current method of paying subsidies to hospitals that voluntarily accept such patients has its limitations.
The Yomiuri proposals view the spread of infection as a contingency and call on entire communities to be involved in the treatment of the coronavirus. It is important to determine the division of roles in advance, such as allocating university hospitals for seriously ill patients and small and medium-sized private hospitals for those in the recovery phase, and to switch roles flexibly according to the infection situation.
Local governments are responsible for planning regional medical care, but the central government should take the lead role in some areas, such as enlisting the cooperation of the medical community. Medical care is a public asset that is funded by taxes and health insurance premiums from the people. All hospitals should join in the fight against the coronavirus in some way.
In countries where vaccinations are already underway, signs of social life returning to normal are beginning to emerge. The central government must work with local governments to ensure smooth vaccinations.
Vaccines are in short supply worldwide, and countries are fighting to obtain them. It is unfortunate that Japan has not fostered the development capability to domestically produce vaccines.
In Japan, several companies are conducting clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines, but there is no prospect of approval. It is important to break away from foreign dependence and foster a vaccine industry under the leadership of the government. The development of therapeutic drugs must also be tackled.
Variants believed to be highly infectious are spreading. In addition to testing at central and local government laboratories, it is necessary to make private labs able to check variants so that they can be detected and contained at an early stage.
Just over a year has passed since the first coronavirus infection was confirmed in Japan. The government must take advantage of the experience and lessons learned so far and implement bold measures without being bound by precedents.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 21, 2021.