August 18, 2021 at 13:30 JST
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks at a news conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Aug. 17. (pool)
In view of the virulence of the highly contagious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus, experts early on raised the alarm about its explosive spread that could overwhelm the nation's health care system.
And the situation today proves how right they were.
But despite their warnings, the government failed to prepare for the worst by overestimating its accelerated vaccine rollout plans and neglecting to boost the medical service system and COVID-19 testing procedures.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga bears an extremely heavy responsibility for this mess.
The government on Aug. 17 decided to declare a state of emergency for seven more prefectures that are currently under semi-emergency measures and apply the latter measures anew to another 10 prefectures.
The duration of both measures will be from Aug. 20 through Sept. 12.
As for the prefectures that are already under emergency or semi-emergency measures, the duration will be extended from Aug. 31 to Sept. 12.
This puts 60 percent of Japan's prefectures under either of those measures, which points to the gravity of the situation.
When Suga decided in early July to declare the fourth state of emergency for Tokyo, he promised to "absolutely stop the spread of infections stemming from Tokyo."
But he failed to deliver on his promise.
Contrary to his assertions of "being proactive every step of the way to implement countermeasures," new infection numbers spiked and forced him to resort belatedly to issuing last-minute declarations of states of emergency and semi-emergency.
And by forging ahead with the Tokyo Olympics, which flatly conflicted with his calls to the public to limit their activities, Suga did nothing to make people understand the crisis they were facing.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency for nearly 40 days now, but the infections have yet to peak and experts are rightfully describing the situation as "out of control."
All this, plus the growing number of prefectures where the state of semi-emergency needs to be boosted to the full-fledged state of emergency, is ample proof that the preventive measures taken so far have been ineffective.
In response to a recent spate of cluster infections originating in department store food floors and other places, the government has come up with a new measure to limit the number of visitors at large commercial facilities with floor spaces in excess of 1,000 square meters.
This is in addition to the current liquor service ban in effect at restaurants and bars.
But it is doubtful that such measures will bring about the drastic reductions in the movement of people demanded by experts.
Of late, the prime minister is expressing hopes for the establishment of "oxygen stations" that will be made available to patients who take a turn for the worse while recuperating at home and the introduction of an antibody cocktail therapy.
Obviously, everything should be done to ensure the ready availability of such services to anyone in need.
That said, however, the prime minister's top priority now is to win the understanding and cooperation of the public by demonstrating that he and his government are firmly committed to doing everything in their power.
Specifically, he must immediately meet the demand of opposition parties and convene an extraordinary session of the Diet.
Then, he needs to ensure that the Diet will become the venue where the ruling and opposition parties will jointly seek effective pandemic response measures, raise and answer questions, disclose information the public needs to know and call for the public's cooperation.
Suga reiterates that dealing with the pandemic is his administration's top priority.
Surely, nothing should be too daunting for him to attempt, if he is to live up to his responsibility of protecting the lives and livelihoods of citizens.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 18
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