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Editorial: Japan gov't must do more as coronavirus cases surge to new high

Japan has recorded a new single-day high of coronavirus infections, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has raised its coronavirus alert to the maximum level. These factors indicate more vividly that the country is experiencing a "third wave" of coronavirus infections.

    During the second wave of the outbreak in July and August, coronavirus patients in Japan were primarily in their 20s and 30s. This time around, the virus has apparently spread to middle-aged and elderly populations, who are at higher risk of developing severe conditions. The number of serious COVID-19 cases nationwide has already surpassed those registered during the second wave.

    Cluster infections have hit universities and foreign resident communities, suggesting that such group infections have diversified. For this reason, some regional communities have been unable to catch up with and contain cluster outbreaks with their transmission prevention measures.

    While the central government has mapped out an array of virus countermeasures, they primarily center around requests for individuals and businesses to take thorough infection prevention steps, while not placing restrictions on social and economic activities.

    The domestic tourism and restaurant industries are still reeling from the economic impact from temporary business closures and other virus responses. However, authorities should shift their focus to stepping up virus prevention measures to prevent another coronavirus state of emergency from being issued.

    The national government's "Go To Travel" subsidy program was originally aimed at spurring tourism demand on the assumption that coronavirus infections had settled down. While there have not been many cases of people using the program getting infected, the initiative inevitably gives the public the impression that the government is promoting people's movements. Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, commented that the controversial program "served as a catalyst" for the resurgence of infections.

    While authorities are supposed to examine whether to exclude prefectures with surging coronavirus cases from the Go To campaign, it is necessary to manage the program flexibly. The government should cooperate with local bodies in dealing with the matter, instead of leaving the decision up to each prefecture on the grounds of a lack of requests by governors to remove their regions from the program.

    Some experts have called out for people to refrain from traveling to and from areas where infections are spreading during the three-day weekend starting Nov. 21. Meanwhile, the government has explained that it is not necessary to uniformly request people to refrain from traveling. Such conflicting responses could cause confusion among the public.

    The resurgence of infections has already placed a constraint on medical systems in some regions, including the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi, where hospital bed occupancy rates are on the rise due to a spike in coronavirus cases.

    Boosting the number of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients apparently takes one to two weeks to prepare. Prefectural governments are urged to take all possible measures to secure hospital beds by looking further ahead.

    Authorities must not take haphazard responses. The government has a responsibility to clearly present the public with a basic policy on how to get the nation through this winter including the year-end and New Year holiday period.

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