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Editorial: Time for gov't to hit economic brakes, curb resurgence of virus in Japan

Japan has recently witnessed a resurgence in the number of novel coronavirus cases across the country. A government expert panel on COVID-19 has raised the alarm over the current situation, noting that patients are increasing, as reported by many local bodies, and is warning that the burden inflicted on the nation's healthcare system has been accumulating.

    The spike in new coronavirus infections initially began in Tokyo and in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka. It then spread to Fukuoka in southwestern Japan, Aichi in central Japan and in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, among other areas. In more than half of the new cases, the routes of infection remain unknown. In cases where the routes of infections can be traced, it has emerged that there is a rising number of infections among family members, at drinking parties and the like, and among colleagues at work.

    Initially, infections had occurred mainly among young people who went out to restaurants and bars in entertainment districts in Tokyo. Now, coronavirus cases have spread across generations and through various locations throughout the country.

    After lifting its state of emergency declaration, the government has pushed for the resumption of economic activities. It even brought forward the launch date of the "Go To Travel" subsidy program to spur domestic tourism battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

    A resurgence of coronavirus cases had been anticipated to some extent. However, if the situation is left unaddressed, infections could spread among older people and the number of serious cases could increase, possibly triggering a collapse of the healthcare system.

    Amid such circumstances, some local bodies have drawn up their own countermeasures. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has urged restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours, while the Osaka and Okinawa prefectural governments have also laid out their own regulations.

    Prefectural governors and others are calling on the national government to support them in providing compensation to businesses that are temporarily shutting down at the request of local governments. Medical associations and others on the medical front lines caution that "Japan will burst into flames if no action is taken."

    Nevertheless, no sense of crisis can be observed in the central government's response to the current state of affairs. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is reluctant for the government to declare another state of emergency, saying that the number of severe COVID-19 cases is fewer than that in March and April.

    The battle against the novel coronavirus will inevitably be a prolonged one. It is essential for the government to gently step on the gas pedal on the road to economic recovery but apply the brakes through measures to prevent the spread of infections, according to the circumstances. The top priority now is preventing the further spread of viral transmissions.

    The government should temporarily suspend the Go To Travel campaign. The exclusion of trips to and from Tokyo from the program due to a surge in coronavirus cases in the capital is irrational considering the current circumstances, where infections have already spread across the country.

    Japan has learned a lot from the process of containing a potentially explosive spread of the first wave of the novel coronavirus in the country. During that process, it became clear that the so-called "three Cs" -- crowded places, closed spaces with poor ventilation, and close-range conversations -- as well as people speaking loudly, could raise the risk of infection. At the same time, it has also become clear that we can reduce infection risks while engaging in outdoor activities, shopping, commuting and other activities by taking adequate preventative measures.

    It ought to be possible for the government to make use of such knowledge and take well-modulated measures. The government is urged to listen to the opinions of experts and pour its efforts into preventing the spread of infections by bolstering cooperation with local governments.

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