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Editorial: Measures necessary for New Year's holiday to prevent spread of coronavirus

The Japanese government has proposed extending the year-end and New Year's holidays so that people can spread out when they take time off, as a measure to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. But that plan has been interpreted by many as a request for businesses and schools to offer everyone a maximum 17 consecutive days off, which has thrown companies and schools into chaos.

    The aim of the dispersion and extension of the holidays is to alleviate crowding on trains and other forms of transportation among people visiting their relatives, as well as dense gatherings at shrines as people pray for good fortune in the coming year. It makes sense for businesses, local governments and other bodies to make efforts to mitigate crowding to the extent that it is possible.

    Meticulous coordination among the various bodies is important. Considering that an expert advisory subcommittee has been requesting since September that action be taken, it is clear that coordination among the government and organizations involved has been insufficient.

    The way that Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of economic revitalization and the government's coronavirus response, disseminated information on the year-end and New Year's plan was also problematic. He must take to heart the fact that he failed to communicate clearly that the basic premise of the plan is to disperse the days that people took off, and not to give everyone 17 consecutive days off.

    It is necessary not only to spread out people's holidays, but also to present and widely publicize other specific year-end and New Year infection countermeasures.

    The total number of novel coronavirus infections in Japan has topped 100,000, and the daily number of newly infected people has hovered at a high level. There are concerns that once winter comes, the risk of infection will increase as people spend more time indoors with insufficient ventilation.

    Many people gather at Shinto shrines across the country for New Year's. While the visits take place outdoors, the shrine grounds get very crowded, and it becomes important to take measures not to get crammed in small spaces with a lot of other people.

    When families and extended families get together for the holidays, considerations need to be made to protect older members of the family, who are at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms in the event that they do contract the novel coronavirus. The government should release its basic policy on such gatherings, and whether it is going to ask the public to refrain from visiting relatives like it did for the Bon holidays in the summer.

    When people from urban areas -- where there are higher numbers of infected people -- travel to regional areas, the risk of infection spreading rises. But there is a limit to what medical systems in regional areas can do.

    New coronavirus cases in Hokkaido, which sees a lot of tourists, have been on the rise, prompting the governor to raise the caution level by one and call on people to be on high alert.

    The subcommittee has recommended the cancellation of events in prefectures where there have been surges in the number of infections, and called for those prefectures to be excluded from the "Go To" travel subsidy campaign. The government should look closely at the state of infections in each region, and beef up measures depending on the situation.

    In Europe, infections have spread as a result of the resumption of socioeconomic activities. Now countries are once again taking bold steps, such as France, which has gone into lockdown again.

    To prevent another state of emergency in Japan, we must not allow any slack in infection countermeasures.

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