The Japanese government's short-term, concentrated strategy to beat COVID-19 has failed. It must seriously reflect on the situation to ensure a better future.
To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the government has decided to extend a state of emergency over four prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka. Originally it was due to end on May 11, but it will now remain in effect until May 31.
With new infection numbers and severe COVID-19 cases tracking upward, the medical system in west Japan's Kansai region is in a dire situation. In the capital region, too, concerns of pressure on the health system are heightened.
Japan's third state of emergency, which came into effect on April 25, has been unable to significantly reduce infections. An extension seems unavoidable.
The government's inability to end the declaration at the originally scheduled date is a result of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's focus on a short-term, concentrated strategy. Experts asserted that at least three weeks would be necessary to see a curb in infections, but the government didn't take this advice on board and opted for a 17-day emergency.
Tokyo and Osaka have seen fewer people out and about compared to during a second state of emergency in January, but with the spread of variants of the virus more infectious than the original one, it has become difficult to control the situation. It has to be said that the government underestimated the dangers.
The government's message that "reduced movement by people will prevent further infections" has not been adequately communicated. During the long "Golden Week" public holiday, a conspicuous number of people traveled to regions not under emergency measures.
There are also numerous issues with the latest extension.
The government has indicated it will relax calls on large retail spaces to close and for events to limit attendee numbers. This runs a risk of increasing people's movement. It is an inconsistent response that flies in the face of the emergency's initial aims.
Furthermore, the government has provided no clear basis for shifting the deadline to May 31. Clear explanations on what conditions need to be met to lift the emergency are also absent so far.
Despite the fact that the pandemic started more than a year ago, there has been no expansion of health care system provisions or support for closed businesses. Dissatisfaction is brewing among the public, who are criticizing the government for "always just seeking cooperation."
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are approaching quickly, but if the government is hesitating to take drastic measures because of the games, it's placing the cart before the horse. Keeping down infections is an absolute prerequisite for the games to go ahead.
These half-baked measures, which have no clear basis or aim, will struggle to gain understanding from the people. It is the government's responsibility to clearly indicate a strategy that will protect lives and livelihoods.