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Editorial: As Japan eyes 7th COVID wave, measures needed to protect those at risk

Concerns over a resurgence of coronavirus infections are growing stronger in Japan, with the number of newly infected people on the rise across all age groups, especially among younger people aged between 10 and 29.

    The rise in cases is said to be caused by a new omicron strain that is taking over. Some experts point out that the seventh wave of infections has begun in Japan.

    We must put the knowledge gained from the sixth wave to use, and take all possible precautions. It is necessary to adopt effective countermeasures that correspond to the characteristics of the omicron strain.

    First, emphasis should be placed on protecting the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, who have a high risk of developing severe symptoms if they are infected.

    Japan should hasten an inspection of its medical system so that such people can be diagnosed quickly and receive medicine. During the virus's sixth wave, the number of infections surged and outpatient care was delayed.

    Measures to prevent clusters of infections at nursing care facilities are also important. Collaboration with medical institutions that handle home visits should be stepped up. There is also a need to expand systems to dispatch supporting nursing care workers to those facilities to ensure they are not left shorthanded if a worker is infected.

    Another essential measure is increasing the vaccination rate for COVID-19 booster shots. Some 80% of elderly people have already received booster shots, but the corresponding figure across the entire population stands at around 40%. The government and local bodies should strengthen their calls for people with underlying conditions to get vaccinated.

    People of working age and children often exhibit only mild symptoms when they are infected with the virus, but it is nevertheless essential to secure counters that they can contact if their conditions worsen.

    At the end of last month, the government fully ended quasi-state of emergency measures across the country, and shifted its focus from controlling infections to resuming social and economic activities.

    During the sixth wave of infections, the places where the virus spread became diverse, and it was pointed out that the effectiveness of quasi-emergency measures centered on asking restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours was limited.

    On April 7, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that he would "get society and the economy moving" while maintaining a system providing medical care.

    Overseas, restrictions on people's activity have been eased in light of the fact there has been a decline in serious COVID-19 cases among those infected with the omicron variant. There have been calls for the same response in Japan, too. Taking these requests into consideration, the government is moving ahead with measures such as providing discounts for travel and tickets to events.

    Japan, however, should not divert its entire focus to promoting socioeconomic activities. It should be careful about stepping on the accelerator to boost such activities amid concerns of a resurgence of the virus.

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