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Editorial: As '3rd wave' of COVID-19 hits Japan, analyze cause and take precautions

There has been a striking increase in the number of people newly infected with the coronavirus, not only in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, but also in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka. The surge has been called the beginning of Japan's "third wave" by some.

    Compared to when Japan experienced the second wave in the summer, socioeconomic activities have expanded. The government's coronavirus advisory subcommittee warns that if action is not taken, there is a high chance that we will see a rapid spread of the virus. This must be dealt with promptly.

    In response to the expert subcommittee's emergency recommendation, the government decided to beef up its cluster infection measures. This time, it is urging precautions for cases that, in large part, used to go unnoticed.

    Cluster infections at universities and workplaces do not happen so much through classes or work, but more so when groups from school and work go out to drink or take smoking breaks together, or through life in the dorms. While it has already been pointed out that these kinds of settings run a high risk of spreading the virus, in reality this fact has not sufficiently taken root among the public. We would like to see the national and local governments put more effort into disseminating and repeating this information to the public.

    When cluster infections occur in foreign resident communities, public officials are slow to recognize that clusters have emerged due to language and other barriers. There needs to be a way to deliver information about anti-infection measures and medical facilities in a multitude of languages. Cooperation with nonprofit organizations that have already forged relationships with foreign nationals is indispensable, in order to be considerate to cultural differences.

    To identify clusters as quickly as possible, it is also necessary to expand the scope and speed of coronavirus testing.

    It is said that in Hokkaido, where the number of infected people has surged, the situation has been affected by low temperatures and humidity. However, it is still unknown how much of a causal relationship there is between the spike in cases and the climate. We would like experts to rush to analyze the cause.

    In Hokkaido, there has been a shortage of hotels and other facilities where COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms could stay while they recuperate. It is important that other prefectures make an allowance for a further spread of infections and secure enough rooms.

    There are concerns for an outbreak of the seasonal flu in the winter alongside the coronavirus pandemic. We must hurry to improve the framework for tackling such a situation, making sure that local primary care doctors and community medical facilities can sufficiently respond.

    It has been said that going forward, the national and prefectural governments will consider exempting certain prefectures from the "Go To" travel subsidy campaign or issue limited stay-at-home requests depending on the infection statuses of different areas.

    The central government and regional areas must prepare a system to collaborate with each other so as not to make any mutually contradictory decisions, which could delay measures and cause confusion.

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