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[Speaking Out] Japan Should Turn Around Coronavirus Countermeasures

The emasculation of the state of emergency declaration indicates that people want a policy turnaround.



Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Dr. Shigeru Omi, head of the government COVID-19 task force.



Wuhan virus infections are increasing again in Japan. Some critics attribute the increase to the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. Given the absence of spectators and the prohibition on contacts between Olympic participants and the general public, however, such attribution seems groundless. 

As known well, the number of novel coronavirus deaths or seriously-ill patients among elderly people has declined substantially thanks to vaccination. On July 29, 83% of the newly infected in Tokyo were below 50 years of age. 

In Japan, the coronavirus death rate stands at 0.28% of those in their 50s, 0.09% in their 40s and only 0.02% in their 30s. This means that coronavirus countermeasures should focus on the vaccination of people who are in the prime of their working life, in their 40s and 50s, and control against their becoming seriously ill. 

Can businesses stay closed and survive?

Break Away From Focusing Only on Infection Control 

It is understandable that restrictions on human traffic are the most effective for holding down the spread of infectious diseases. In the past year and a half, the government’s advisory panel known as the Subcommittee on Novel Coronavirus Disease Control has emphasized restrictions on human traffic to counter the infection spread. 

This approach was right one year ago when details of the novel coronavirus were unknown. At a time when infection risks and death rates have become known, with treatment methods being developed and the vaccination effects being proven, however, it is not understandable why the government still sticks to the goal of cutting infections to zero and continues to impose restrictions on people’s lives. 

While drinking and eating establishments have been affected most seriously, the advisory panel and the Japan Medical Association still cling to reducing new infections. 

Social activities cannot be established under scientific thinking alone. Now that medical information on the coronavirus has been obtained to some extent, Japan must break away from focusing only on infection control. 

Do Not Disrupt Economic Activities 

Politics is about pursuing the total optimization of two events that contradict each other. If the survival of the country is at stake, politicians must make a choice between the two.

Regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, there is no doubt that politicians should find the total optimization of infection control and economic activity sustainment. 

The advisory panel comprising infectious disease experts may be required to show the extent to which infections can be allowed to spread without economic activities being disrupted. They may not go wrong if they continue to call for restricting human traffic. But such an approach amounts to the avoidance of responsibility. 

The emasculation of the state of emergency declaration indicates that people want a policy turnaround. 

The government should come up with an innovative response to the pandemic, explain it to the people and lead them in a better direction. 

If the advisory panel resists a policy turnaround, the government should be prepared to reshuffle the panel. 

(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, Speaking Out #817 in Japanese on August 2 and in English on August 5, 2021.)

Author: Hisashi Matsumoto