Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi cautions against rapid easing of controls

Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi has warned against hastily easing anti-pandemic restrictions on people’s lives, and called for measures to be relaxed only after the state of emergency is lifted.

His remarks Wednesday came as the government looks to ease restrictions around November, when it aims to finish vaccinating all those who wish to be inoculated against COVID-19. That plan includes letting eateries provide alcohol, condoning travel across prefectural borders and permitting big events with more attendees even if the state of emergency is still in force.

“Even though the vaccination rate has risen, there will certainly be a rebound if we suddenly ease restrictions,” Omi told the House of Representatives’ health committee.

“I believe the path we should take is to gradually lift them after the state of emergency expires and the number of infections comes down to a certain level,” Omi added.

With the medical system still under strain from an influx of COVID-19 patients, much of Japan will remain under a state of emergency through Sept. 30.

Government data shows slightly over half of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated so far against COVID-19.

Looking ahead, Omi warned that the fight against the new virus is expected to last for a long time. “It may take about two to three years until the public no longer has to worry about COVID-19, like influenza for which we have vaccines and medications,” he said.

In the same committee meeting, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the government remains on guard while watching for a potential “sixth wave” of infections.

“It is a fact that the number of new coronavirus cases is rapidly decreasing on a national level,” Tamura acknowledged. But he added that he worries about more people interacting with others as children go back to school this month, ventilation is reduced during winter and socializing increases toward the end of the year.

Over 60% of the population is expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of September, bringing Japan on a par with major European countries such as the U.K. and France, according to the government.

Japan initially lagged other major economies in inoculating its population. Facing criticism, the government has made relatively fast progress since, setting up mass inoculation sites and offering workplace vaccinations.

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