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Editorial: Japan needs better system to tackle coronavirus as economy plunges

Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) between April and June shrank by over 27% on an annualized real-term basis, recording the worst postwar contraction. The severe economic situation is due to the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country.

    Japan experienced a significant downturn in consumption due to people exercising self-restraint for outings and business closures under the coronavirus state of emergency declared by the government. Exports have plummeted amid the worldwide recession, and pillars supporting the nation's economy have all collapsed.

    Moreover, the resurgence of infections following the resumption of economic activities after the state of emergency was lifted in late May is worrisome. A sense of wariness has increased among consumers, and sales dropped for department stores that were just beginning to recover. A cautious view that Japan's economy will continue to stagger is prevalent among economists.

    If the economy remains stagnant for a prolonged period, employment, the backbone of the economy, will further worsen. There are already at least 2.3 million people who have jobs but are forced to stay away from work due to company circumstances. If firms fail to survive and there is mass unemployment, the economy will experience an even sharper downturn.

    Economic recovery cannot be achieved while citizens remain worried about infections. Yet the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is entirely focused on responding with ad hoc measures.

    Despite the resurgence of coronavirus cases, the launch date of the central government's "Go To Travel" tourism promotion campaign was moved up from the original date in August to July. Meanwhile, the state has put off easing restrictions on admissions to large-scale events. Government officials were even divided on whether to ask people to refrain from visiting their parents' homes during the recent Obon holiday period.

    First of all, there should be clear evaluation standards. While the Abe administration established a subcommittee including health care professionals and economists in July, it doesn't seem that the views of experts are being sufficiently utilized.

    It is also essential to clearly show data on the economic effect and the risk of infections when resuming economic activities. Based on this, the government should provide careful explanations that will convince citizens and properly strike a balance between promoting economic activity and preventing the spread of infections in policy measures.

    There is also an urgent need to improve and expand testing and treatment systems. The government must make efforts to solve labor shortages at public health centers that mainly conduct coronavirus tests and elsewhere. Due to the prolonged spread of infections, hospitals are facing increasing financial difficulties and need funding support. If hotels and other lodgings are used to accommodate more patients with mild coronavirus symptoms, it can lead to a further alleviation of the burden on hospitals.

    The Japanese government is urged to organize a system that enables the early detection of infections and to provide medical care for patients. A reassured public is the basis of a full-scale resumption of economic activities.

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