EDITORIAL: No more Omicron cases a call to battle stations for the next wave

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Patients with the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus have appeared in various parts of Japan. One case involved an international traveler who tested negative on arrival but was later found to be infected. Each individual case must be carefully considered to prevent the strain from spreading widely.

Over the weekend, it was confirmed that a man had the Omicron variant as he was self-isolating at his home in Gifu Prefecture after a trip overseas. It took four days for the health ministry to alert Gifu prefectural authorities that the man had come into close contact with an infected person. This was due to the time required for an additional layer of testing beyond standard controls to confirm infection with a specific variant. The friend who brought the man home from the airport has been added to the close contacts list.

The government has adopted strict border control measures to prevent the spread of Omicron cases. When a case involves an international flight, all passengers are treated as close contacts. But the case of the man from Gifu shows that there are limits to the effectiveness of such strict measures.

We hope the government can develop ways to confirm Omicron cases more quickly and to provide close contact information to local governments more quickly. This should improve the country’s ability to detect Omicron cases and trace contacts.

The number of international arrivals is expected to increase towards the end of the year. The number of quarantine rooms has increased from 7,000 to around 13,000. The government has also decided to force visitors from some countries and regions to self-isolate at home in order to avoid a shortage of quarantine rooms.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has made efforts to expand facilities, manpower, and testing capacity to deal with healthcare challenges. The shortage of quarantine hotels around airports for international passengers and their close contacts became glaring around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. Yet this problem has remained unanswered.

For now, the central government is considering enlisting help from local governments who have booked hotel rooms for patients who do not need hospitalization but must remain in isolation. He has a duty to redouble his efforts to meet this challenge without omission before a more serious situation develops.

The entry restrictions and quarantine requirements cause serious inconvenience to many people and have caused anxiety among the general public. The government must provide timely and useful information and forecasts on the expected duration of the current measures and the easing criteria.

Last week, the health ministry announced plans to prepare the public health and medical systems for a possible “sixth wave” of infections. The number of COVID-19 patients who can be admitted to hospitals has increased by 30% from the summer, when the previous wave peaked. This follows a decision to release data on the number of available beds designated for COVID-19 patients at individual hospitals. The staff of public health centers can now be tripled in the event of a crisis.

It is essential to ensure that the mindsets and systems involved are configured in such a way that hospital beds and staff can be redistributed quickly and flexibly, in line with the ministry’s strategy.

The judgment of the prefectural administrations will be given more weight than in the last five waves when it comes to assessing the infection situation and making political decisions on such important issues as the proclamation of the infection. ’emergency state, .

Effective political efforts are essential to tackle Omicron and determine key questions, such as whether the variant leads to faster transmission of the virus and causes more serious illness in those infected. How effective are current vaccines and treatments against the new strain? Central and local governments should share all the latest relevant information to develop effective responses to the challenges posed by the variant.

–L’Asahi Shimbun, December 14


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