Photo/Illutration Yoshiro Mori during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on March 31 (The Asahi Shimbun)

The Asahi Shimbun on April 3 ran a recent interview with former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who heads the 2020 Olympics organizing committee.

It made fascinating reading. Or, to be more precise, it sent a chill down my spine.

Recalling a conversation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just before the decision was made to postpone the Games, Mori revealed that he asked Abe, "Wouldn't it be wise to consider a two-year delay?"

That, Mori explained, was because he anticipated a long, brutal battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the prime minister insisted on a one-year postponement, asserting: "A vaccine can be developed. Japan's technology hasn't faltered. We'll be fine."

Believing implicitly in his nation's technological prowess, Abe refused to imagine a worst-case scenario.

This sort of "mental toughness" scares me.

And this toughness was discernible in Abe's decision to distribute "two cloth face masks to every household."

At first, I thought he was joking. But no, he was dead serious. Appearing in public with a mask, he obviously believes totally in his personal crusade, if you will, to lead the nation by his own example.

But in reality, the pandemic has reached a stage where lofty concepts such as "willpower" and "fighting spirit" are of no use.

Serious cases of coronavirus infection need to be treated in intensive care units, but there are said to be less than 1,000 ICU beds for serious COVID-19 patients throughout Japan.

Given the recent dramatic spikes in the numbers of patients in Europe and the United States, Japan needs at least 10 times more ICU beds, if similar surges are to occur here.

To avert the collapse of the Japanese health care system, it is absolutely critical to immediately convert various available facilities into treatment centers for patients.

I now believe that the prime minister must not hesitate to declare a state of emergency, if that would help to shore up the health care system.

Such a declaration would be no magic wand, of course. It would be vital to secure sufficient health care professionals to effectively run newly converted treatment facilities.

And if the government is going to legally request store owners to suspend operations, those people need to be financially compensated.

Is there any chance that Abe regards the declaration of a state of emergency as a "tool" that will make himself look at his best and the most determined?

I sincerely hope not.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.