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Editorial: As Japan enters 6th wave, securing health care system imperative

Japan has entered the de facto sixth wave of coronavirus infections as many parts of the country are witnessing rapid surges in case numbers, due in part to the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant. The government is urged to expend all possible means to counter the situation.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced a plan to declare a quasi-state of emergency for the prefectures of Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima as these regions in southern and western Japan are experiencing a significant spike in new COVID-19 cases.

    First and foremost, efforts to prevent the nation's medical system from coming under strain ought to take priority.

    While omicron carriers are said to be less likely to develop severe symptoms, a surge in infection numbers means a possible rise in severe cases, which inevitably places a heavy burden on medical professionals. Vaccinations with COVID-19 booster shots for the older segment of the population at high risk of developing severe symptoms have just got underway in the country.

    In a bid to make effective use of the limited number of hospital beds available, the government has revised the previous policy of hospitalizing every individual who has tested positive for the omicron strain. In municipalities where systems for oral drug distribution and doctors' home visits are in place, patients will be allowed to recuperate at home.

    It is imperative to make arrangements for swift hospitalization in case patients' conditions turn for the worse through collaboration between municipal governments and medical institutions, so those recovering at home can do so at ease.

    In some countries abroad where the latest infection wave arrived earlier than in Japan, there are cases where a shortage of doctors and nurses on duty due to their infections with the coronavirus has resulted in hindering medical examinations. At home, authorities are urged to utilize a system to dispatch support medical staff to regions with severe infection status.

    In Okinawa and some other prefectures, it is believed that infection clusters that broke out at U.S. military bases have sparked community transmissions.

    While the government has introduced an entry ban in principle for foreign nationals arriving in Japan, individuals affiliated with U.S. bases in the country are not subject to this rule, creating a hole in border control measures. U.S. Forces Japan has announced that it will bolster its anti-infection measures, but it has not complied with requests to restrict outings by personnel. The Japanese government has the duty to continue requesting U.S. forces to improve their response.

    Once instituted, the quasi-emergency measure will be the first one in the country since September 2020, when the last edition expired. If restaurants and bars are requested to shorten their operating hours and refrain from serving alcohol under the measure, their businesses will once again face a predicament.

    In order for the quasi-emergency measure to prove effective, it is essential to seek understanding and cooperation from business operators and the general public. The government is advised to carefully explain why the measure is necessary.

    Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture are also witnessing spiking case numbers. The government must discern the nature of the omicron variant and the effects of countermeasures adopted overseas, and take a flexible response against the sixth wave of infections.

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