Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 25 with Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government’s subcommittee on the novel coronavirus. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The three weeks through Dec. 16, which the central government labeled as a crucial period for stemming the spread of COVID-19, ended in defeat.

Cases of new infections with the novel coronavirus are only rising as Japan is entering a period of the year-end and New Year holidays.

Medical workers on the front lines are complaining ever more vocally about how overstrained they are. Our entire society is shrouded in anxiety.

We are standing on the threshold of midwinter for the first time since the previously unknown virus emerged.

A process of trial and error may have been inevitable. But the situation has been exacerbated by the inaction of politicians and their overly optimistic outlooks, which are taking a heavy toll on various regional communities and various sectors of society.

Tokyo, among all areas of Japan, is facing a particularly serious situation.

The government’s Subcommittee on Novel Coronavirus Disease Control has been urging Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to call on restaurants, bars and other establishments more strongly to shorten their operating hours to curb a further spread of infections through dining in groups.

That request is partly based on the observation that similar measures have turned out effective to a certain extent in Hokkaido and Osaka Prefecture. But Koike has yet to comply with the request.

We understand that Koike’s restraint derives partly from consideration for affected industries in dire straits and partly also from concerns about the effectiveness of similar measures.

Be that as it may, foremost priority should now be placed on stemming a collapse of the public health care system. Koike’s view of the situation can only be described as being too optimistic, given that the daily numbers of new infections in the capital only keep rising.

It is never late for the Tokyo governor to display her leadership abilities and take action.

It would, however, be irrelevant to blame everything on Koike alone.

The National Governors’ Association has for some time been demanding that the authority of prefectural governors be strengthened and more extensive central government measures for financial assistance be made available so governors can issue more effective requests for business closures and shorter operating hours.

In the same context, opposition parties have also called for amending the Law on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response. But the government took no action and even closed an extraordinary session of the Diet as early as in the beginning of December.

The government finally presented a list of moot points for law amendment when the subcommittee met on Dec. 23, but the slowness of its action is mind-boggling. It should promptly come up with a road map and a policy for future work and coordinate plans with the opposition parties.

One source of anxiety consists in the progress of data collection and analysis work that would provide the basis for amending the law. The government has postponed a critical, retrospective review of the state of emergency that it declared last spring “until the crisis ends.”

An accumulation of facts, such as the effectiveness of government measures taken back then in inducing people’s behavioral change and stemming the spread of the virus as well as the impact they had on the economy, is a prerequisite for amending the law in any substantial way.

Similar data is also indispensable for discussing the wisdom of, and methods for, restricting the freedom and private rights of citizens.

The government should hurry to foster a climate for Diet deliberations on the matter that will be understood and accepted by the public.

Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government subcommittee, attended a news conference alongside Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Dec. 25 and reiterated that it is essential for the central and local governments to send out united messages to curb a further spread of infections.

He was pointing out what is obvious: the remarks and the stances of leaders are of the utmost importance in any efforts to overcome a crisis.

In fighting the coronavirus in the days and months to come, our leaders should take to heart that a variety of mistakes have been made and a variety of challenges have been highlighted in that respect during the past year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26