The spread of coronavirus infections in west Japan's Kansai area, namely Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, has shown no signs of abating due to the proliferation of virus variants that are thought to be highly transmissible.
"Quasi-emergency" measures went into effect this week for both prefectures, with a central focus on urging eateries to close early. However, the numbers of new daily infections have already outstripped figures recorded during the peak of the virus's third wave when the area was subject to a state of emergency. A "medical state of emergency" has been issued for Osaka Prefecture, where the occupancy rate of hospital beds designated for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms has topped 70%.
The Japanese government aims to avoid having to declare another state of emergency by applying the quasi-emergency measures. However, it remains unclear whether the current steps will be able to successfully curb coronavirus infections.
In both Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, there was a rise in the number of people out in busy entertainment areas after the state of emergency was lifted at the end of February this year. This, along with the movement of people in new companies, posts, or schools, in line with the start of the new fiscal or academic year in April, appears to have led to a fourth wave of infections.
Death rates are said to be higher among those infected with coronavirus variants than people infected with the original strain. There has also been a sharp increase in patients with serious conditions amid the spread of the virus. It is crucial to bolster tailored countermeasures.
Osaka Prefecture's quasi-emergency coronavirus measures currently apply to only the prefectural capital of Osaka, but the national government and prefectural authorities should consider expanding the areas covered by the quasi-emergency. They also must reinforce requests calling on the public to refrain from trips to and from other prefectures, in order to prevent the spread of virus variants.
Boosting the number of hospital beds for individuals with severe COVID-19 symptoms is another urgent task. Patients infected with coronavirus variants are liable to be hospitalized for prolonged periods. The central and prefectural governments should strengthen their ties with university and private hospitals to ease the burden on medical staff in the field, and avoid a collapse of the health care system.
While coronavirus infections among children had heretofore been relatively small in number with the original coronavirus, it is said there are hardly any differences between age groups when it comes to infections with variant strains. Those working within the education sector must arrange a system of online classes and other measures in preparation for the potential temporary closure of schools.
Infections have also been spreading in the Tokyo metropolitan area, as well as in Japan's southernmost prefecture Okinawa. The number of new coronavirus cases in Tokyo surpassed 500 for the second day in a row on April 8, prompting the metropolitan government to request that the national government place Japan's capital under a quasi-emergency. Swift action is of vital importance.
Japan Medical Association President Dr. Toshio Nakagawa warns that we are facing "the greatest crisis experienced thus far." In the event that the state of infections gets even worse, a scenario where the national government hesitates to declare yet another state of emergency, resulting in a delayed response, cannot be tolerated.