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Editorial: Imminent lifting of curbs no reason to let your guard down

  • March 17, 2022
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 3:15 p.m.
  • English Press

The number of serious COVID-19 cases has started falling, and ratios of occupied hospital beds for novel coronavirus patients are on the decline nationwide.

 

But levels of new infection are still high and daily numbers could take an upturn again at any time.

 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is committed to restoring daily life and economic activity to pre-pandemic levels, but that will require an effective system to ensure that people can get tested and see doctors near their homes and receive medical treatment swiftly if necessary. 

 

The government announced it will lift COVID-19 pre-emergency measures in 18 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, as scheduled on March 21.

 

A surge in cases across the nation prompted the government to first imposed pre-emergency curbs on three prefectures, including Okinawa, in early January. It then expanded the scope to cover 36 prefectures. But for the first time in two and a half months, no restrictions will apply anywhere.

 

In reaching its decision, the government also eased the standards for imposing curbs, making it possible to lift them when the number of new cases is trending down even if more than half of the hospital beds for COVID-19 patients are occupied.

 

To be sure, maintaining the restrictions is unlikely to bring an end to the current wave of infections. But the Kishida administration’s decision seems to have been prompted by concerns it will become difficult to take the step after new fiscal year starts in April, traditionally a time when job relocations take effect and people move into new accommodation.

 

The administration needs to keep close watch on the situation and prepare for a possible next surge in cases based on lessons from its past mistakes.

 

During the sixth wave of infections due to the Omicron variant, active coronavirus clusters emerged mainly in facilities for elderly people, schools and day nurseries. There have been few cases where a restaurant became a cluster site.

 

This prompted some prefectural governors and members of a group of experts advising the government on COVID-19 responses to voice skepticism about the effectiveness of the pre-emergency measures, which are focused on requests for restaurants to shorten their business hours and refrain from offering alcohol drinks.

 

There is, however, no denying the fact that the measures had a positive effect. They prompted many companies and organizations to expand remote working as well as cut back on commuting to offices and group eating among employees. But a reasonable case can be made for a careful and responsible reassessment by the government of the effectiveness of the restrictions on restaurant operations.

 

As the virus has spread among elderly people, including residents of care homes, the total number of people who died from COVID-19 so far this year has reached the 8,000 level, making it the largest surge in deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic. This is a weighty fact.

 

The government needs to provide more policy support to care facilities struggling with an outbreak by sending doctors, nurses and care workers to them.

 

There have been countless complaints about difficulties in making appointments at clinics and hospital sections for treating outpatients with fever due to congestion and a shortage of test kits available.

 

Testing is crucial not only for discovering patients who need treatment but also for allowing close contacts to go out of isolation and maintaining the vital activities of essential workers. A better system should be established to meet a broad range of needs for testing.

 

Even coronavirus variants that are less likely to cause serious problems like the Omicron strain inevitably cause large numbers of patients with serious symptoms and deaths if they are allowed to spread indefinitely.

 

To limit the scale of outbreaks and damage from them, it is necessary for all members of society to recognize the importance of individual efforts to avoid high-risk activities and take basic precautions in their daily lives and act accordingly.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, March 17

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