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Editorial: To beat omicron, Japan gov't must do more than prolong existing measures

With infections continuing to trend upward, the Japanese government will extend coronavirus quasi-state of emergency measures on 13 prefectures for another three weeks. These measures are now in place for 36 of Japan's 47 prefectures.

    Requests that eateries shorten business hours have led to fewer people out at night. Still, Shigeru Omi, head of the Japanese government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee, has warned that infection numbers may stay high even after they peak.

    Rather than letting extensions of measures drag on, what's needed are flexible countermeasures that take into consideration the omicron variant's characteristics.

    Severe COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise. The daily death toll now exceeds the peak reached during the country's fifth wave of coronavirus infections in summer 2021. The greatest priority should be protecting older people at high risk of infection.

    More and more elderly people are being hospitalized. In Osaka Prefecture in particular, hospital beds for people with mild or moderate symptoms are dwindling. There is reportedly a noticeable number of cases of people with pre-existing conditions contracting the virus and being hospitalized after their condition worsened.

    The government has added another 1,000 hospital beds to temporary medical care facilities in Tokyo and Osaka, and these facilities are accepting patients in stable condition. To ensure hospitals' focus can be given to people with severe symptoms, it is of utmost importance that consistent measures including securing medical personnel are in place.

    Infection clusters at care facilities are also rising rapidly. It is important that infections be kept down, through public health centers focusing on tracking the close contacts of infected individuals and medical specialists being dispatched to local governments.

    There is also a pressing need to rein in viral spread among children. It is unavoidable that school activities with high transmission risks be temporarily limited. Schools where infections have spread quickly should examine a complete switch to online lessons.

    The government is encouraging day cares and other facilities to get children aged 2 and over to wear masks, depending on the child's development. To ensure the children's health is not affected, it is important that decisions are made with respect for the views of guardians and those working at the relevant facilities.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called the present situation "a battle to protect the people's lives at all costs." A million-dose-per-day target for third "booster" shots has finally been set.

    To improve countermeasures' efficacy, understanding and cooperation from relevant professionals and the public is indispensable. Until infections are quelled, how can the medical system be kept running? The government must show the way forward.

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