These preventive measures use the powerful “drug” of restricting a wide range of private rights. The government must explicitly present a concrete scenario to contain the “fourth wave” of the infection.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has decided to declare a third state of emergency in the four prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 to May 11. In addition to closure requests for restaurants and bars, the government will impose a wider range of business restrictions, including requesting large commercial facilities to close and calling for events to be held without spectators.
In the Kansai region, highly infectious variants account for 70% of coronavirus cases, and the increase in infections has been unstoppable. In Tokyo, the variants are also increasing rapidly. The decision was apparently made in response to the governors’ strong desire to reduce the flow of people during the Golden Week holidays and curb the spread of the virus.
When the government declared the second state of emergency it said it would “target key points” and took measures of mainly shortening business hours at restaurants and bars. The prime minister had rejected arguments that there was a nationwide spread of infections, even when it was pointed out that it might be the fourth wave.
This is a sudden and drastic change in policy that will only confuse the public. Questions remain whether sufficient consideration was given to the issue.
There have not been many cases of infection clusters at department stores or large-scale events. Many companies have put a large amount of money into implementing diligent measures. Tickets for events have already been sold, and it is natural for businesses to be confused.
If the government was to take strong measures to stop the flow of people, shouldn’t it have sent out a message earlier and carefully made requests with a notification period?
If the number of infected people decreases temporarily due to the strong measures but then increases sharply after the state of emergency is lifted, it will end up with the same situation as before.
It is essential for the government to use the period of the state of emergency effectively and hasten to take comprehensive measures covering vaccination, strengthening cooperation among hospitals, securing hospital beds and medical workers, and improving the testing system.
In Osaka Prefecture, the number of seriously ill patients exceeds the number of hospital beds designated for such patients. As a result, dozens of seriously ill patients are being treated in hospital beds for mild and moderate illnesses. The number of patients recuperating at home has risen to more than 9,000. There have been cases of such patients dying due to sudden changes in their condition.
Shiga Prefecture has decided to accept seriously ill patients from Osaka Prefecture and to dispatch nurses. The government should take the lead in establishing a system of cooperation over a wide area. It is an urgent task to dispatch medical workers and to expand the number of temporary recuperation and medical treatment facilities.
In the latest state of emergency, schools will not be closed across the board, but there will be requests to refrain from holding club and other activities with a high risk of infection.
It is important to protect the educational environment. In the United States and Britain, children and college students are tested once or twice a week, and in-person classes are held. It is hoped Japan will follow this example and consider introducing such a system.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 24, 2021.