As Japan returned to work yesterday following a holiday weekend, regional and national authorities moved toward boosting restrictions designed to contain the spread of a COVID-19 surge.
A campaign to spur domestic travel, which some have blamed for spreading infections, is to be partly suspended. The metropolitan region of Osaka, where cases have spiked, plans to ask bars and restaurants to close early, while Tokyo was reported to be making plans for similar steps as serious cases jumped to a new high in the city.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike last week said that severe cases, rather than sheer number of infections, were her “red line” that would spur further action.
Those cases, which the area defines as those on a ventilator or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, jumped 24 percent overnight to a total of 51, the most Tokyo has seen during the pandemic.
The local government is debating what level should be used to trigger a request that would ask stores to close early, local media have reported.
Broadcaster FNN, reporting before yesterday’s data were released, said that 50 or 75 cases had been suggested as a possible level that could trigger restrictions.
Tokyo reported 186 new cases yesterday, although that figure was likely lower than the past few days due to slower testing during the holiday weekend.
The country posted a total of 1,520 cases on Monday, the first time in six days that infections fell below 2,000 cases.
While the level of infections is not as dramatic as those in Europe and the US, the outbreak is raising concerns amid similar spikes in Asian regions from Hong Kong to South Korea as winter approaches.
Other regional authorities are also pushing ahead with steps to contain the surge in their areas.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura plans to ask bars and restaurants serving alcohol to close from 9pm for 15 days starting on Friday, Kyodo news reported, after the region saw more than 400 cases on both Saturday and Sunday, and infections grow among older people.
The “Go To Travel” subsidy program for those destined for Osaka and Sapporo would also be suspended, Japan Broadcasting Corp reported.
The move came after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said over the weekend that Japan would partly halt the campaign in areas where cases are increasing, without specifying the places affected.
“It is obvious that positive diagnoses are increasing due to the movement of people,” Koike earlier told a news conference. “It’s necessary to look at how to restrain this active movement of people.”
Koike was to meet Suga to discuss Tokyo’s involvement with the program later yesterday.
Japan’s government lacks the legal means for a harsh lockdown, but has been effective in requesting businesses and citizens to voluntarily take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Severe cases nationwide, which uses a broader definition than Tokyo’s, rose to 331 as of Monday, surpassing the peak reached during the April state of emergency.
Similar regional restrictions during a summer surge helped bring an increase in cases under control.
While Suga has called for the utmost state of caution, national authorities are still reluctant to take steps that would reduce spending.
Japanese Minister of Finance Taro Aso yesterday told reporters that economic growth should not be halted and that the travel campaign should be responded to appropriately, while also indicating that the program could still be extended next year.
“We’ll take the most appropriate response as needed on the travel campaign while looking at the virus spread,” Aso said. “We can’t just stop the economy from growing.”
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