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Editorial: Enhanced COVID-19 controls welcome, but Japan needs 4th wave strategy now

The government has announced stronger steps against the coronavirus proliferating in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures, the first time the expanded controls have been implemented in Japan.

    The measure allows specific geographical regions to employ similar conditions to those imposed under a coronavirus state of emergency. In this case, the enhanced steps apply to six cities including Osaka, Kobe and Sendai, and will last for one month, until the end of Japan's "Golden Week" holidays spanning late April to early May. A sharp rise in new coronavirus case numbers has made strengthened countermeasures an imperative.

    Even before this, worries over another infections surge existed. And yet, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures had their last state of emergency measures end ahead of the originally scheduled date. Miyagi Prefecture even quickly restarted the Go To Eat subsidy campaign promoting dining out.

    The pillar of enhanced anti-infection measures is calling on restaurants and bars to shorten business hours to 8 p.m, with non-cooperative businesses potentially subject to administrative fines. Bumping up government subsidies for compliant firms is a natural next step.

    We also call on eateries to implement thorough anti-infection measures on their premises. Administrative bodies should cooperate with business owners to gain patrons' understanding through patient, careful explanation.

    However, it is impossible to foresee whether all this will stop the virus' renewed spread.

    Osaka Prefecture's daily new cases average is already approaching the third infection wave's peak. Some experts say the government response is coming too late.

    Infections are reportedly spreading with particular vehemence among university students. Therefore, the government should consider applying enhanced steps not just to the city of Osaka, but to all local governments hosting a university.

    Another serious cause for concern is the increasing number of variant infections -- which are considered more infectious than the original coronavirus -- being confirmed in Japan.

    Stricter measures will be needed if reducing eateries' business hours proves of limited efficacy. To prevent hesitation in declaring another state of emergency then leading to a worse situation, the government should clarify its benchmarks for the declarations.

    In the capital region, too, case numbers are trending up again. We are worried that Japan may be swamped by a fourth infection wave before vaccines are in the arms of the country's elderly, who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. The government must examine the anti-transmission measures implemented by the three prefectures subject to enhanced controls, and in future use the lessons learned in its coronavirus policy.

    Japan's prefectures must also speed up coordination with medical institutions to boost bed numbers and lodgings serving as recovery facilities for mild cases. Regular and thorough nursing home inspections are also essential.

    Japan needs a strategy for a projected fourth wave of COVID-19, and very soon.

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