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Editorial: Lifting of state of emergency must not trigger start of ‘sixth wave’

  • September 29, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:35 p.m.
  • English Press

The government has decided to lift the state of emergency declaration and pre-emergency measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 30.

 

The decision was based on the recent sharp decline in new COVID-19 cases, but opinions vary even among experts on why infections have abated.

 

There is no question that the growing vaccination rate has helped, but infections are resurging in some nations with higher vaccination rates.

 

This is no time for letting our guards down, and we must ensure that we are fully prepared for a “sixth wave.”

 

Of particular urgency is the need to rebuild the health care system, including securing temporary medical facilities as well as hotels and other accommodations for recuperation.

 

What systems and support measures should be implemented to make the most of local health care resources without disrupting routine services for non-COVID-19 patients?

 

Health minister Norihisa Tamura proposed during a TV appearance that front-line health care personnel take turns working at temporary medical facilities. But that is easier said than done.

 

In the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election debates, no clear course of action for addressing this pressing issue has been presented. Discussions must continue with health care providers and local government officials, who are directly involved.

 

Also, every effort must be maintained to ensure that the public is thoroughly informed of infection control measures.

 

With more children contracting the novel coronavirus lately, schools and day care centers are reporting cluster infections.

 

To minimize the spread, it is crucial that tests be conducted immediately and extensively as soon as the first positive case is confirmed.

 

The health ministry has authorized pharmacies to sell antigen testing kits for medical use over the counter.

 

Given the demand, this is an appropriate step. However, since the accuracy of the results from antigen tests differs from that of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the public needs thorough information on how to use them.

 

With scientists and doctors warning of the risks of airborne infections, the importance of proper ventilation must be stressed anew.

 

The government must review infection prevention guidelines ahead of winter when people will be spending more time indoors.

 

The lifting of the state of emergency declaration and pre-emergency measures is bound to raise people’s expectations for a return to normal life. But any hasty action must be avoided at all costs.

 

Plans to ease restrictions on movements for those carrying certificates of vaccinations or negative tests must be conditional on a broad consensus in society.

 

The first step would be to hammer out the details of “verification tests” that are expected to begin shortly, so that potential problems can be identified from the data collected.

 

A lull in infections is an ideal time for exploring solutions to long-term issues.

 

Time-consuming processes for clinical trials for vaccines and medications emerged as a major problem, but it is a fact that no procedure can be changed overnight when it involves issues related to personnel resources, systems and history.

 

The same goes for creating a new organization or undertaking a massive legal revision.

 

To deepen discussions on these issues, a critical assessment of anti-coronavirus measures taken under the administrations of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, which is long overdue, must be conducted to identify what went wrong and what lessons can be learned.

 

It is a heavy task that the next administration must take on.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 29

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