THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
April 24, 2021 at 15:15 JST
Health experts are already casting doubt on the likely effectiveness of a new state of emergency for four prefectures that begins April 25, saying the duration is too short to gauge whether the curbs will have worked when the steps are due to be lifted.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed that the latest measures included a package intended to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic in a strong and focused manner centered on the Golden Week holiday period that kicks off at the end of April.
Health professionals weighed in quickly after Suga's April 23 announcement, saying the 17 days allotted to the emergency period were insufficient. They warned against lifting the steps if the hospital care situation has not improved by the time the curbs expire.
Tokyo and the three western Japan prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto will be covered by the announcement.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura was among those who grumbled about the short duration even though he had balked earlier at imposing such steps.
“Even by May 11 (when the state of emergency is scheduled to end) the hospital care situation in Osaka will still be very tight,” Yoshimura said.
Osaka prefectural authorities had called for the measures to remain in place for at least three or four weeks.
“The consensus is that there will be no unconditional lifting of the state of emergency on May 11,” Shigeru Omi, the chairman of the government panel of experts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, told reporters April 23 after the government approved the state of emergency.
However, he said an extension of the period was possible if the situation in the four prefectures had not improved to the second most serious stage 3 in terms of the risk of spreading of infections.
Other experts also noted that it normally takes about two weeks for the effects of infection prevention measures to show up.
While there are stronger measures involving requests to close business in a wide range of sectors, the current surge in new infections is also being blamed on mutant strains of the coronavirus.
For this reason, it remains to be seen if the 17-day period will be sufficient to restrain new cases.
Another member of the government panel said reaching stage 3 was critical but that the affected prefectures also had to show signs the situation was further improving to stage 2.
In the case of Tokyo, which has been recording in excess of 700 new cases daily, that would mean reducing the number of new cases first to under 500 and eventually to below 100.
“But the number of new cases will likely continue to increase over the next two weeks or so (during Golden Week), making it difficult to bring down the number under 500 by May 11,” the member said, adding it would likely take a month before the effects emerged.
Another member said it would be difficult to accurately gauge the infection situation over Golden Week because the number of tests given would decrease.
“Results will not emerge just because the declaration was issued,” said Mitsuyoshi Urashima, a professor of preventive medicine at Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo. “If there is no improvement, the government’s measures will be labeled as ineffective, and that could badly tarnish trust in the government.”
He called on the government to release data that serves as the scientific basis for the measures and also prepare a scenario in case the new measures prove ineffective.
(This article was written by Hiroshi Ishizuka, Akiyoshi Abe and Kai Ichino.)
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