In response to spreading coronavirus infections in Japan, three more prefectures have been added to the areas under a state of emergency declaration: Okayama, Hiroshima and Hokkaido.
Initially the government intended to go only as far as implementing more lenient quasi-emergency measures, but the decision was overturned by its experts. This is an extraordinary development.
New confirmed infections in the three prefectures are rising quickly, and their health care systems are under pressure. The government's expert panel included specialists who are deeply concerned by the spread of virus variants. Many of them expressed the view that quasi-emergency measures were insufficient. It demonstrated how the government had underestimated the mutant strain threat.
It is now abundantly clear that quasi-emergency measures have not been enough to suppress a fourth wave of infections in west Japan's Osaka Prefecture. But even so, the government has failed to learn lessons from it. It appears to be descending into dysfunction.
The Japanese government's errors in judgment are not limited to the present circumstances. During the third wave of infections, it paid far too much consideration to the effects on economic activity, and put forward prevention measures one at a time. As a result, infections surged over the end-year to New Year period.
The sense of crisis felt among experts has not been adequately communicated to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and the government is unchanged in responding slowly.
In the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, where quasi-emergency measures were implemented from May 9, the rate of newly confirmed coronavirus infections per 100,000 residents in the prefectural capital Sapporo is higher than it is in Osaka Prefecture. The government bears a serious responsibility for standing idly by.
Under a state of emergency declaration, authorities can issue requests and even orders to cease business activities. Experts have emphasized that reducing people's trips outside is key to reducing infection numbers. The national government needs to partner with municipal governments to formulate an effective response.
It has been asserted that with people growing increasingly tired of limiting their activities, the efficacy of state of emergency declarations is diluted. To obtain cooperation from people, the government needs to put out clear messages.
For businesses and residents in the three prefectures newly added to those under a state of emergency, the declaration was not something they had anticipated. The government should clearly explain the timeline for it.
Infections are also spreading in other regions, and the National Governors' Association wants a rapid response. The government must listen closely to the views of municipal governments and experts; it cannot hesitate in strengthening its response.
Vaccines are the government's ace in the hole, but it is still going to be months before all of the country's elderly people are immunized. Until then, how will the people's lives be protected? The government needs to show it has an effective strategy as soon as possible.