In response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Osaka Prefecture, the prefectural government has decided to request that the national government issue a state of emergency in the prefecture for the third time since the pandemic began.
Two weeks have passed since coronavirus quasi-emergency measures went into force in Osaka, but their effects have been insufficient. Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has said that the medical system there is under extreme strain, and stressed the need for stricter measures.
In Osaka, newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients have exceeded 1,000 almost daily, and there are no signs of the numbers going down. There are more patients with serious symptoms than there are beds for them, and some have pointed out that a collapse of the health-care system has begun. The Japanese government should take into account the views of experts and promptly declare a state of emergency.
The last state of emergency declaration in Osaka Prefecture was lifted earlier than planned in late February. But with the spread of new strains of the coronavirus that have greater infectability, coinciding with the season of farewell and welcome gatherings due to the end and beginning of the fiscal and academic years in Japan, infections spread again in about a month.
The challenge of utmost urgency is beefing up the medical system. The current state in which medical workers are lacking must swiftly be addressed, and their remuneration taken care of. The national government should take the initiative in offering support as it does in natural disasters, such as arranging for the dispatch of medical workers from around the country to Osaka.
Once the government declares a state of emergency, it will become possible to request or order businesses to close. Gov. Yoshimura has indicated his intention to have places that attract a lot of people, such as department stores and theme parks, shut down temporarily.
Until now, restrictions on businesses were limited to requests for restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours, but the next state of emergency declaration would make it possible to place another layer of restrictions on the public's rights. If such measures are going to be implemented, the Japanese and Osaka prefectural governments must carefully and thoroughly explain the need for them, and put in the effort to gain the public's cooperation. Providing financial assistance to businesses is also essential.
It is possible that limiting the state of emergency declaration to Osaka Prefecture only may not give us sufficient results. Previously, a state of emergency was declared in neighboring Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures at the same time. It is necessary to take measures that treat areas where people come and go frequently in their day-to-day lives as a unit.
The Japanese government tried to curb the renewed spread of the virus with coronavirus quasi-emergency measures, but they did not function appropriately. It is said that there were some within the government who saw the quasi-emergency measures as a way not to issue a state of emergency. This will all need to be investigated.
The number of newly confirmed cases of coronavirus patients is increasing in Tokyo, where quasi-emergency measures are currently in place. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has made plans to put in a request with the national government to have a state of emergency declared for Tokyo as well.
The Japanese government should use the lessons it has taken away from what has happened in Osaka and collaborate with Tokyo to take measures that are one step ahead of the virus.