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Editorial: Japan's Golden Week state of emergency is not fit for purpose

People's outings have not declined sufficiently under the current state of emergency declared for Tokyo.

    Today marks the start of the annual late April to early May "Golden Week" public holiday. Highly infective coronavirus variants are also spreading in the capital region. Japan's total coronavirus deaths have topped 10,000, and the figure is accelerating. To protect lives, Japan must urgently review its virus countermeasures as the situation demands.

    On April 25, the state of emergency's first day, which fell on a Sunday, shopping areas in the capital saw only a limited drop in foot traffic compared to during the state of emergency in spring last year.

    A remarkable number of Tokyoites also spent time in the three capital region prefectures neighboring Tokyo, including Kanagawa. Although these areas are subject to quasi-emergency measures, they likely attracted visitors because their response differs from that of the capital in that large-scale retail businesses remain open, and alcohol can be consumed at their restaurants.

    A consistent, unified response among local governments whose living areas overlap is a fundamental part of infection prevention measures. If infections continue to spill out from the capital, then a state of emergency for the three surrounding prefectures will also have to be considered.

    This time, the government has shifted its policy from focusing on eateries to actively trying to reduce people's movements. But it seems this aim has not gotten across to the people.

    One indication of that is how drinking gatherings have continued to take place on the streets. Behind these gatherings is a sense that people are used to the coronavirus, and that they're tired of limiting themselves. To ensure prevention measures are observed thoroughly, the government should issue clear information.

    The government is also pursuing a 70% reduction in trips to work by having businesses actively apply remote working structures. But it is not making headway. It must think of a way to encourage companies to establish the means for teleworking.

    Also problematic is that the latest emergency declaration period is set at 17 days; somewhat shorter than the three weeks sought by experts. The government explained that the current measures are a short, concentrated response timed with the holiday period. But in such a limited time, it will be difficult to curb new infection numbers and hospital bed occupancy rates to levels meeting criteria to lift the declaration.

    Support policies for private businesses are also insufficient. Compensation offered to large-scale retail operators complying with government requests to close temporarily stands at only about 200,000 yen (about $1,842) per day, while for tenants the daily amount is just 20,000 yen (around $184). Naturally, businesses are discontented with the level of support.

    In addition to the 5 trillion yen (about $46 billion) in reserve government funds, funds budgeted for the "Go To" campaigns meant to fuel demand for domestic services should also be diverted to provide relief.

    Estimates showing a continuous rise in new infections over Golden Week also exist. As long as the government's sense of urgency is low, the state of emergency will not bear results. The government must use every means available to get people to cooperate.

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