As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in Japan at an alarming rate, new strategies are called for.
On August 1, Tokyo announced 472 new cases of the disease, the highest single-day number to date. A few days earlier, the nationwide one-day total topped 1,000 for the first time. Even Iwate Prefecture, which had previously doggedly preserved its unblemished record of zero cases, confirmed its first two cases.
One notable trend is that the coronavirus seems to be fanning out from the hard-hit metropolitan areas to other parts of the country. Also, infections are increasingly simultaneously impacting all age groups, from youngsters to the elderly.
The national government continues to assess the situation as “serious cases remain few in number, and the medical care situation is not overly strained.”
It is no doubt true that the situation is different from what it was back in early April, when a state of emergency was first announced. Aggressive virus screening has identified more cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and public consciousness of the problem has grown.
Nevertheless, if the pandemic continues to spread among the elderly, that will inevitably result in an increased number of serious cases. And there is concern that the spread of the disease to more areas away from the urban centers will strain the medical resources virtually overnight in local areas.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has responded to the current rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases by issuing a “special alert.” The national and local governments also need to adopt a shared crisis mentality and coordinate measures to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Governor Koike has also indicated that she might urge restaurants, bars, and other establishments serving alcohol to shorten their business hours and close earlier in the evening. However, we cannot afford to bring all kinds of economic and social activities to a screeching halt under an emergency declaration.
Rather, we should give priority to appropriate support for the rapidly increasing ranks of the infected, and put in place a framework for preventing the spread of the virus. To that end, it is essential to strictly implement a principle of medical treatment provided at hotels and other designated lodgings for individuals who have contracted the coronavirus but are asymptomatic or showing only light symptoms.
The reason why is that unsupervised individuals who have contracted COVID-19 may not follow the self-quarantining rules. For example, as of July 29, among those individuals in Tokyo confirmed as having contracted the virus, 479 were self-quarantining at home, while 218 were doing so at designated facilities.
The problem is that among the cases of those self-quarantined at home, the route of infection has been identified — the number with a “nightlife” connection is notable.
If we look at the examples of mass infections that have occurred on cruise ships or at medical facilities, we find that it is not possible to adequately protect against infections in regular households.
In some cases, the condition of individuals who initially had only light cases can deteriorate dramatically. Therefore, in order to protect the lives of such patients and prevent the spread of the virus in the general community, we should abandon home self-quarantine in favor of quarantine at designated hotels and other facilities.
That means that from now on it is essential to provide adequate quarantine lodging in areas besides major metropolitan centers like Tokyo or Osaka. Hopefully, the national government will actively provide support for such a program.
(Read the editorial in Japanese, here.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun