Expert says lifting of COVID-19 state of emergency in Japan at the end of May is not feasible

The Ebisu Bridge in the Dotonbori Entertainment District in Osaka’s Chuo District was nearly deserted on the morning of April 25, 2021, when the third coronavirus state of emergency was declared. (Mainichi / Kazuki Yamazaki)

TOKYO – While three weeks have passed since the Japanese government declared a state of emergency for four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, on April 25, the number of infections and the occupancy rates of the beds of hospitals have shown no signs of improvement, and it is unclear whether the government will be able to achieve its exit strategy of lifting the declaration by the end of May.

During the last state of emergency, more stringent measures, including requests for the temporary closure of businesses in department stores and cinemas, were taken compared to the period covered by the previous declaration, and possibly because of this, movement of people in the streets has been relatively limited. . However, some places have seen an increase in exits.

“If the numbers do not go down even though we have applied such strong measures, where are the infections spreading?” Norihisa Tamura, the perplexed Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, said at a press conference following a Cabinet meeting on May 14, when it was decided that three more prefectures , including Hokkaido, would be added to the areas covered by a declaration of a state of emergency.

While the third state of emergency in Japan in the midst of the fourth wave of coronavirus infections had been in place since April 25 in four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, it is not known whether it was effective in curbing the infections. The number of new infections per 100,000 members of the population fell from 89.36 cases – recorded between April 21 and 27, the first week that Osaka prefecture was covered by the state of emergency – to 67, 62 cases between May 5 and 11. However, the number of new cases is still at a transmission level of “Stage 4” – which indicates an “explosion of infections” – in the 4-point classification created by the Japanese government countermeasures subcommittee. coronavirus. In the capital, the figures for the same periods fell from 37.55 to 41.45 cases.

When viewing the evolution of the figures for new cases of coronavirus following the last two cases of declaration of a state of emergency, after the first declaration of a state of emergency which began on April 7, 2020, the number of new cases nationwide saw a 25% decrease from 377 to 284 after three weeks. The figure fell to 20 when the state of emergency was lifted after about two months.

Following the second state of emergency which began on January 8 this year, although measures were mainly limited to a reduction in opening hours in restaurants, the initially recorded figure of 7,844 cases has decreased by about half in three weeks. By the time the declaration was lifted about three months later after being extended twice, the figure saw an 85% decrease to 1,110 infections.

Although the first and second declarations of a state of emergency did reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, after the third state of emergency, infections fell in three weeks from 4,434 to 5,247 on May 16, despite measures reinforced by previous statements, such as department stores and cinemas must temporarily close. The number of patients with severe symptoms has also reached high levels exceeding 1,200 cases per day.

Atsuo Hamada, professor at Tokyo University of Medicine and expert in infectious diseases, said: “Although measures to fight infections are expected to be stronger than in the previous statement, there has been no great effects in Osaka and Tokyo, even after three weeks. Instead, there has been an increase in coronavirus cases across the country, including central cities in regional areas and not just metropolises, and an unprecedented situation has arisen in Japan. ”

The variant of the N501Y coronavirus, thought to be highly transmissible, appears to hamper the control of the spread of infections. According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), 90% of coronavirus strains causing infections nationwide have been replaced with mutant variants. In addition, it is said that when infected with the variant, the risk of developing severe symptoms is 1.4 times greater than when infected with the original strain in general, and this rate increases is particularly high in people aged 40 to 64, who have a 1.66 times greater risk of developing severe cases.

Regarding the future outlook on infections, NIID Director General Takaji Wakita, Chairman of the Coronavirus Countermeasures Advisory Board at the Ministry of Health, stressed at a press conference following a board meeting on May 12 that “in order to reduce the number of infections to ‘Stage 2’ (where cases are gradually increasing), it is necessary to have a state of emergency in place for at least 44 days in Tokyo, and about 28 days in Osaka. ”

Professor Hamada said: “As the coronavirus variants are highly transmissible and have a high risk of causing severe symptoms, the number of infections will not easily decrease and they have also been directly linked to a strained health system. infections in Osaka and Tokyo, we are barely in a situation where we can lift the state of emergency at the end of May. With enforcement measures as they are in the current state of emergency, it takes a considerable number of days for the state of emergency to reduce the number of infections to a level comparable to that of “stage 2″. He added: “More deaths will occur and the economy will likely be affected as well. The government must take more stringent measures, such as requiring companies to keep employees at home, even for short periods, without waiting until the end of May. ”

(Japanese original by Naomi Hayashi, Department of Medical and Lifestyle News)

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