Experts and governors in Japan question the effectiveness of Covid-19 measures

March 7, 2022

TOKYO – Some prefectural governors and experts have raised concerns about the effectiveness of near-emergency priority measures that require restaurants to shorten their opening hours, as these restaurants are no longer the main source of new coronavirus clusters.

■ Against extension

“Continuing to force restaurants and other establishments to shorten their opening hours will be less effective,” Fumio Otake, a specially appointed economics professor at Osaka University, told a subcommittee meeting on Friday. government on coronaviruses.

The meeting was held to discuss whether to expand or lift the priority near-emergency measures, which have been put in place in Tokyo and 30 prefectures. Otake opposed the expansion, mainly due to the small number of clusters from restaurants and other food establishments.

Amid the sixth wave of infections, which was dominated by the omicron variant, the virus spread explosively among people who dined together over the holiday and New Year’s Eve. The main source of infections has since shifted to home environments, schools and nursing homes.

“We should focus on measures to prevent older people from becoming seriously ill,” Otake said, noting that the highly contagious omicron variant is difficult to control, but the risk of becoming seriously ill is lower. than with the other existing variants.

In restaurants, younger generations in particular dine with people they don’t see regularly, people outside their homes and workplaces, which makes it easier for infections to spread quickly. Therefore, regulations such as shorter operating hours are considered more effective when put in place earlier in a wave of infections.

“The priority measures have helped curb the spread of the infection at the initial stage,” Fukuoka Governor Seitaro Hattori said. “But the context of infections has changed, so priority measures are unlikely to have a significant effect on reducing the spread of the virus from now on.”

For this reason, Hattori asked for priority measures to be lifted on Sunday as originally planned. The governor will instruct restaurants and other establishments in Fukuoka Prefecture to have no more than four people per table for a maximum of two hours, thereby simultaneously continuing infection countermeasures and economic activities.

■ Fair treatment

Regardless of whether or not priority measures are in place, the number of people visiting entertainment districts at night has fallen since early January, when infections were spreading rapidly.

In Miyagi Prefecture, Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai remains consistent in not calling for priority measures amid the current wave of infections. However, some restaurants have called them after experiencing a drop in the number of customers, as commercial operators can receive money for their cooperation in complying with requests for reduced opening hours.

“It makes no sense to apply priority measures for cooperation money,” Murai said.

The governor stressed that economic measures should target a wide range of industries affected by the pandemic and therefore implemented a support program different from other prefectures.

In Tottori prefecture, where priority measures are also not in place, countermeasures against infections have been further strengthened, especially for schools and daycare centers, which are currently at the center of infections. Measures include calling for elementary schools and daycares to close if they have infections and distributing children’s masks to all daycares and kindergartens.

“We have taken reasonable steps to curb infections,” Tottori Governor Shinji Hirai said.

■ Regional characteristics

Subcommittee head Shigeru Omi said on Friday that urban and regional areas had “different tones” regarding their measures for restaurants and other eateries.

Central Tokyo is densely populated and the entertainment districts attract a large number of people. However, the huge workload of public health centers may prevent them from fully determining the infection situation of restaurants and other restaurants.

“Curbing the flow of people into entertainment districts at night will remain key to infection control measures,” a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said.

“Asking restaurants to shorten opening hours has some impact in preventing infections from spreading from those places,” said Atsuo Hamada, a specially appointed professor of infectious diseases at Tokyo Medical University Hospital. “However, if people are not informed of the need for such regulations in an easy-to-understand way, they will not change their behavior, and these measures may not be fully effective.”