October 20, 2021 at 13:10 JST
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, second from right, attends a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters at the prime minister’s office on Oct. 15. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
In preparation for the next wave of novel coronavirus infections, the government has come up with the basic outline of its new pandemic response policy.
Assuming the worst-case scenario of the virus' transmissibility reaching double the peak level of this past summer, the government is projecting a 20-percent increase in the number of patients requiring hospitalization and is setting up a system to ensure there will be sufficient hospital beds available.
We can see that the government has learned from the previous administration's mistakes of basing its policy on unfounded optimism and causing many people to die at home because there were no hospital beds available.
But the new policy itself has yet to be fleshed out, and there is no denying the impression that it was hastily put together for the imminent Lower House election.
As for the transmissibility of the virus, which forms the basic premise of this policy, there is no guarantee that it can be correctly assessed in advance.
When formulating a countermeasure against infectious diseases, it is critical to be able to identify any sign of a rebound and act on it without delay.
No matter how many extra beds are secured, they will be useless if there are no qualified health care personnel to tend to the patients.
The government says it will resort to its legal authority to ask national and public hospitals to take on heavier responsibilities than before, but consideration must obviously be given to ensure that their routine, non-COVID-19 duties are not disrupted.
Close communication is indispensable between the government and front-line health care providers.
We welcome the decision to disclose the numbers of secured beds and their occupancy rates at each medical institution.
During the fifth wave, for example, public mistrust arose when there were enough unoccupied hospital beds in Tokyo according to released figures and yet many patients were forced to remain at home.
We call for an examination of what transpired and demand that the government immediately start discussing in detail how to ensure "transparency" in the days ahead.
One reason why the names of some medical institutions have not been disclosed so far was the concern that they could become targets of malicious rumors for taking in COVID-19 patients, or that their workers could be discriminated against.
Society as a whole needs to be supportive of those institutions and their staffers and be prepared to establish appropriate relationships of mutual cooperation.
There is a lull in the pandemic now, but there are examples of infections spreading in nations where vaccination rates are higher than in Japan.
And last year, infections started surging in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region in late October. We must remind ourselves that an upsurge can reoccur at anytime and that we must not slow preparations.
It is disturbing that the nation's attention is inevitably focused at present on political developments, including fallout from the recent Liberal Democratic Party presidential election and the upcoming Lower House election.
When the next wave arrives, what sort of restrictions will be taken with respect to outings and business hours, and how strict will they be? The government has lately not deepened discussions with experts.
"Free (COVID-19) testing, no reservation needed," was Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's election campaign pledge when he ran for LDP president. But he has since done nothing to explain where he intends to go with this.
It's important to create an environment that facilitates testing, but discussions from a broad perspective are needed to determine how much of this should be funded with taxpayers' money.
A political vacuum cannot be allowed while a pandemic response policy is under discussion. This is all too obvious, and the government must fully respect it.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20
Visit this page for the latest news on Japan’s battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Haruki Murakami and other writers read from books before selected audiences at the new Haruki Murakami Library.
The Asahi Shimbun aims “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” through its Gender Equality Declaration.
Let’s explore the Japanese capital from the viewpoint of wheelchair users and people with disabilities with Barry Joshua Grisdale.