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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Shigeru Omi’s Latest Message is Needlessly Confusing

Limiting people’s movement? Limiting the number who gather? Honesty and a scientific explanation of the basis for Dr. Omi’s statements are necessary if Japan is to survive the sixth COVID wave.

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Dr. Shigeru Omi

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The latest message from Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government’s expert panel on COVID-19, is an irresponsible one.

Shortly after the government decided on January 19 to apply quasi-emergency measures to 13 prefectures, Omi said that the focus has shifted from “limiting people’s movement” to “limiting the number of people at gatherings.”

The panel chairman also made statements such as “hardly any new infections occur at the Shibuya scramble crossing,” “staying at home is unnecessary,” and “if measures are taken, restaurants do not need to close.”

We don’t want to criticize based on only parts of Omi’s message, but it must be said that his message is an irresponsible one lacking in scientific consistency. His comments bring unnecessary confusion to the implementation of national and local government measures. And they could potentially have a harmful influence on public awareness across the country.

We strongly urge Omi to provide responsible explanations and recommendations.

Dr. Shigeru Omi

The chairman said: “It is important to have balanced and effective measures that are appropriate for the characteristics of the Omicron variant.”

This part of his message makes sense. 

However, the confusing part is his abrupt shift from “limiting people’s movement” to “limiting the number of people at gatherings.”

Previously, Omi and the expert panel have emphasized the need for “limiting people’s movement” as a countermeasure to control earlier variants – which were less transmissible than Omicron. Given that Omicron is highly contagious, why is this particular measure no longer necessary?

If there is a scientific rationale behind the statement “hardly any new infections occur at the Shibuya scramble crossing,” then Omi should admit that previous COVID-19 measures – which strongly demanded people to limit their movement – were a mistake, or at least excessive.

Also, it is deceitful to change policy after he supported applying quasi-emergency measures and asking restaurants to shorten their opening hours.

Omi’s views on the matter have also been included in other expert-level proposals.

“If that’s the case, we should have been told earlier,” is probably what many restaurants and local authorities are honestly thinking.

Is the chairman sure that switching from “limiting people’s movement” to “limiting the number of people at gatherings” isn’t a mistake? In order to survive the sixth wave while keeping society and the economy going, we need to examine the situation both scientifically and comprehensively.

We cannot allow a situation where confusion stemming from Omi’s statement hinders any progress that could be made against the sixth wave.

Omi also voiced opinions on Tokyo 2020 and urged that no spectators should be allowed, without any scientific rationale. It raises serious question marks as to whether the government’s panel has been functioning properly as an expert group. 

(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun