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Editorial: Flexible response needed as Japan records new single-day COVID cases high

Coronavirus infections are spreading at an unprecedentedly rapid pace. We must rush to implement measures that respond to the omicron variant's characteristics.

    Newly confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide hit a new high again on Jan. 19. The government decided to expand COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency measures covering the three prefectures of Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima, to apply to another 13 prefectures including Tokyo.

    There are concerns that the number of people with severe symptoms will rise in future. The omicron variant's greater transmissibility than other variants means socioeconomic activity has started to see the effects of the rising number of missed workdays by infected people and those who have had close contact with them.

    In response to the omicron variant, experts are placing more importance on limiting the number of people in high-risk situations such as dining and drinking than on reducing the flow of people across the board. We will need a well-balanced response to the situation.

    People worry that an inability to handle the surge in infections will lead to delays in hospitalizations for people with moderate to severe symptoms, or setbacks in health checks on those recuperating at home.

    It is particularly important to ensure public health centers serving as a contact point for the public and medical facilities do not become overwhelmed and stop functioning. Efforts should be made to lighten their burden by means including simplifying transmission route probes.

    Also necessary is the prompt creation of a framework where clinics and other facilities conducting tests can be involved in assessing patients' need for hospitalization and their risk of becoming severely ill, instead of leaving the tasks to public health centers.

    Numbers of people recuperating at home are rising sharply. Their care is a challenge, too. It will be crucial for the national and local governments to collaborate with local medical associations, and increase the number of medical institutions offering home visits or online consultations. We should avoid overwhelming the medical system by effectively using regional medical resources.

    While strengthening infection countermeasures, all possible steps must also be taken to ensure maintenance of administrative functions such as fire and police departments, and societal infrastructure including public transportation.

    The national government must work with local governments and companies on crisis management so that businesses and services do not stop even if people infected with the coronavirus and their close contacts take time from work.

    The number of days that a person must stay home if they are a close contact of an infected individual has been shortened from 14 to 10 days as a general rule. Experts have said that infection risks can be suppressed to a certain extent even after seven days. From the perspective of keeping society moving, further reductions to this waiting period will likely be debated.

    Much is yet unknown about the omicron variant, including the rate of infections that turn severe. It is essential we take a flexible approach, keeping our eye on the pace of infection expansion and the fluctuations in the number of people with severe symptoms.

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