KUDOS TO SELF-DEFENSE FORCES FOR SUPPORT OF VACCINATION DRIVE
Our world is supported by those who work silently for the good of society. A sound nation works when people readily express their hearty thanks to the unsung heroes of society. That is how Japan should function today—a nation that has traditionally been resilient.
The liberal mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to cancel the Tokyo Olympics in its editorial on May 26, primarily citing “risks to public safety.” The daily emphasized that the majority of the public are concerned that the coronavirus would spread from the tens of thousands of foreign athletes and officials expected to arrive for the Games slated to open on July 23.
But one must take note of the fact that a total of 430 international athletic events have actually been held across the globe over the past year, with participation by an estimated 54,000 athletes, and that there have been no reports of coronavirus outbreaks attributable to these events. Many of us have seen on television this year’s US, Australian, and French Open Tennis Championships, the FIFA Club World Cup Championship, and the Masters Golf Tournament. The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have learned aggressively from these events in working out their stricter countermeasures.
Every Olympic athlete or official visiting Tokyo this summer is required to take coronavirus tests twice in the four days prior to their departure, and to show a document of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. Upon arrival, they must undergo another test and continue to be tested daily for the next three days, during which they will be confined to their hotels or other living quarters. Their means of transportation—from the airport to their living quarters and from there to and back from practices and competitions—will be strictly limited to officially designated cars or buses, the use of public transport absolutely prohibited. During their stay the visitors will be secluded under a “bubble” format, operating outside the range of the activities of the Japanese public to prevent direct contact with them. The organizers are contemplating strict penalties, including deportation, for those who violate these rules. I feel these countermeasures will be quite effective.
The Asahi also expressed concern about Japan’s medical system, already pushed to the breaking point by the pandemic. An agreement has recently been reached between the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee (JOC) and the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of each participating nation, under which each NOC is requested to increase the number of medical specialists attached to its team to help lessen the burden on the Japanese medical system. The total number of athletes and officials visiting Japan has been slashed from the original 180,000 to 78,000. Some 80% of them will arrive after having been vaccinated twice at home. Should coronavirus infections occur among the visitors, team doctors will be available for treatment without burdening Japanese doctors and nurses.
Those responsible have been doing their best preparing for the Games. But the Asahi asked: “What meaning is there in holding the Olympics when people’s activities are being restricted and their daily lives have become difficult?” Doesn’t the daily realize that this situation is the very reflection of our earnest efforts to bring the pandemic under control? It is clearly putting the cart before the horse.
Desperate Fight against Coronavirus
Isn’t the Asahi aware by any chance that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is making desperate efforts to overcome one of Japan’s worst national crises in recent decades, such as by arranging for all eligible senior citizens, who are at greater risk for infection, to be vaccinated first thing? Viewed globally, our government and people are doing a very good job combating the pandemic. Japan’s national power will be proven by holding the Games successfully. That is why we must make one more concerted effort now, exercise a little more patience before being inoculated under the government’s ambitious vaccination drive, and beat the pandemic. Isn’t this the real significance of holding this sports extravaganza during the global COVID-19 crisis.
Persistently chanting anti-Olympic slogans, the Asahi has had very few positive things to say about the Games, obviously itching to make this a political issue just like the opposition parties, the Japan Communist Party and the Constitutional Democratic Party. If the Olympics were to be canceled, it would not be Prime Minister Suga’s fault. More appropriately, Yuriko Koike, the governor of the host city, would be to blame, although I am pretty sure the Asahi will hold Suga accountable. Let us pause here for a moment and review how hard Suga has been preparing for the Olympics since coming to power last September.
I must say at this point that I feel extremely uncomfortable about what I am going to state in the next few paragraphs as regards what is taking place in connection with the government’s vaccination campaign. That said, I want the reader to know that I truly believe the prime minister is trying to do his best for the country and the Japanese people.
At present, a doctor is paid ￥2.070 (US$19.00) for every vaccine shot he administers—￥2,800 (US$25.00) overtime and ￥4,200 (US$39.00) on weekends. I feel the fee is pretty high for just a jab in the arm, but I understand that the government’s inoculation scheme has somehow failed to win the full cooperation of doctors across the nation. An irritated Suga hit on the plan to utilize medical officers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). As most of us are aware, the government has had the JSDF assign 80 out of its total of 1,000 medical officers to two large vaccination centers— one in Tokyo and the other In Osaka—where a combined daily total of 15,000 senior citizens have been scheduled to be vaccinated since April 12.
The JSDF is Japan’s last resort when a major crisis or disaster occurs. It must have been a big decision for the government to have JSDF medical personnel deployed in the nation’s battle against the Wuhan virus when the JSDF is already short-staffed amid increasing threats from China.
When the government launched its current vaccination drive, the Tokyo Medical Association and the Japan Medical Association should have made renewed efforts to urge its members to cooperate more vigorously.
I wish to make one thing very clear here again—that no small number of doctors have been devotedly engaged in medical activities across the nation since the virus broke out last January. The problem lies with the Tokyo and Japan Medical Associations. Despite the fact that their members were given top priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines as front-line workers, only 22% of the members of the Tokyo Medical Association, for instance, had joined the vaccination campaign as of May 4.
Ridiculous Fee Disparities
There is actually very little the government can do under the circumstances as it lacks the authority to command the two medical associations to obey its orders. To make the impossible possible, the government decided to increase the remuneration as an incentive for doctors to cooperate with the vaccination program. I earlier referred to the maximum amount as ￥4,200 (US$39.00). The government increased it to a maximum of ￥7,200 (US$65.00) per shot if several conditions are met. Facing this lucrative offer, a number of reluctant doctors are said to have changed their minds.
I wish to ask the prime minister about his thinking on this decision. While it is essential that the vaccination program be rolled out as quickly as possible in order to save lives, is resorting to monetary incentives to get more doctors involved the right approach? Isn’t it dangerous to rely on people or organizations influenced by the power of money? I also want to ask the two medical associations if they are comfortable with this arrangement. For them, is this morally the right way to be handling this national crisis? For me personally, I have serious doubts about this approach.
Suga must mobilize the full capacities of his administration and directly appeal to the people. Vaccination is the only means currently available to overcome the coronavirus crisis. We must all have our vaccinations as soon as possible so we all will be able to return to normal life. And to make it a reality, our doctors are requested to protect the people’s lives by fulfilling their mission. The prime minister must ask the people to make one more effort, exercise patience a little longer, and beat the pandemic.
I have one more thing to say regarding how the devoted JSDF medical officers and nurses contributing faithfully to the vaccination campaign ought to be treated. The daily remuneration for these unsung heroes is ￥1,620 (US$15.00), or ￥3,000 (US$28.00). Extremely little in my opinion. These sums are said to reflect the fact that they are public servants, and that their colleagues were paid ￥3,000 or ￥4,000 (US$37.00) a day for treating infected passengers aboard the British cruise ship Diamond Princess last January. The ship was berthed at the Yokohama Port. This disparity with private doctors providing the same services simply doesn’t make sense. To make up for this disparity, the prime minister must explicitly and sincerely thank the JSDF men and women for their dedication in ways they will clearly appreciate.
Of all the public servants in Japan, JSDF personnel are the only ones who are asked to pledge their lives in pursuit of their mission. The government must clearly express in a tangible way its heartfelt thanks to JSDF personnel who doggedly obey its orders in committing themselves to protecting the people. One sensible way of the government showing its thanks on this occasion would be to designate the JSDF’s Joint Chief of Staff as an official whose appointment and dismissal requires Imperial acknowledgement.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no., 953 in the June 10, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)