A fifth wave of coronavirus infections is surging across Japan. Daily new infections in Tokyo have exceeded 5,000 people. The country as a whole, too, recently posted its largest single-day increase with 15,000 newly confirmed infections.
Severe cases of COVID-19 are rising steeply, with over 1,000 across the country -- many of whom are in their 40s and 50s, an age bracket that has seen slow progress with vaccinations. In numerous prefectures, hospital bed occupancy rates have exceeded 50% -- a situation classified as a Stage 4 explosive rise in infections.
What the government must get to grips with first is bolstering the medical system.
A government policy to limit people with moderate COVID-19 symptoms from being admitted to hospital faced a pushback from ruling and opposition party lawmakers, forcing the government onto a course of fundamentally hospitalizing people with moderate symptoms of the disease. At the same time that the government is working fully toward securing beds, it must devise medical institution partnerships that allow for people whose symptoms improve to smoothly transfer to other hospitals or be discharged.
In preparation for cases where the supply of beds is still insufficient, the government must work quickly to strengthen the system for accommodation- and home-based recuperation. Regional clinics and home-visit nursing stations must share information appropriately to ensure they can respond to patients whose health rapidly worsens.
Improving infection prevention measures is also important. State of emergency declarations are having limited success in suppressing the delta variant currently spreading ferociously through Tokyo and other areas.
Infections aren't proliferating only in eateries; workplaces are serving as fertile ground for the virus, and companies need to thoroughly employ remote work measures. Some experts say the government should consider asking department stores and other large-scale retail facilities to close temporarily. Calls are also being made for a nationwide state of emergency.
If measures like these are to be taken, the understanding of people and businesses is indispensable. However, the government continues to put its faith in vaccines, and has turned its back on harsher preventive measures.
Today marks the start of a three-day weekend, and the Obon summer vacation where people typically go to visit family across the country will soon be upon us. Shigeru Omi, head of the government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee, is calling for people in big cities to refrain from travel and from family visits to the regions as a way of avoiding a further spread of infections.
The delta variant is reportedly more likely to trigger severe symptoms. There have been cases of vaccinated people being infected; the situation allows for no complacency.
Inside the government, some pessimistic voices are saying that there are "no options left." But exposing the people's lives and health to danger would be unforgivable. If the government is going to sit idly ahead of an explosion of infections, it is basically abdicating its responsibilities.