Japan set to put Tokyo, 12 other areas under COVID quasi-emergency
TOKYO. KAZINFORM - Japan on Wednesday will decide to place Tokyo and 12 other areas under a coronavirus quasi-state of emergency as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant lifts nationwide COVID-19 cases to new record highs and threatens to stretch the health care system, Kyodo reports.
The designation will allow prefectural governors in Japan, which has never imposed a lockdown during the pandemic, to ask restaurants to close early and stop or limit the serving of alcohol. After Prime Minister Fumio Kishida makes a formal decision later in the day, the measure is set to be in place from Friday to Feb. 13.
Japanese authorities worry hospitals that need to treat patients not admitted due to the virus will be overwhelmed if infections continue to increase at the current pace and affect more elderly people and those with underlying conditions.
Another concern is a shortage of essential workers such as medical staff due to a sharp rise in those designated as close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19.
«We need to quickly prevent the spread of infections, given the potential for major strain on the medical system in the near future,» said economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of the government's coronavirus response.
The government's subcommittee on the COVID-19 response gave the green light to the planned quasi-emergency stretching over roughly three weeks, a day after Japan's daily count of confirmed infections topped 30,000 for the first time.
While Kishida has made the COVID-19 response a top priority since taking office in October, his government now faces the difficult task of striking a balance between imposing anti-virus measures and keeping the economy going, especially as health experts say many people show no or mild symptoms despite Omicron's highly transmissible nature.
Shigeru Omi, the government's top COVID-19 adviser, suggested it is not necessary to halt both social and economic activities but urged people to avoid high-risk situations such as gathering in large numbers and speaking in loud voices.
«I think we don't need to have eateries close if people dine in a group of about four and speak quietly while wearing face masks,» said Omi, who heads the subcommittee.
Three prefectures have already been placed under a quasi-emergency since early January and the planned addition of the 13 will mean about a third of the nation's 47 prefectures are subject to stricter curbs.
Along with Tokyo, the targeted prefectures include its neighbors Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa in the metropolitan area, which saw a full state of emergency lifted about three months ago.
Aichi, Gifu and Mie in central Japan, along with Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki in the country's southwest, are also asking the central government to impose a quasi-emergency, as are Niigata, Gunma and Kagawa.
Under the quasi-emergency, prefectural governors can designate specific areas for measures against the virus and make their own decision on business hours or the serving of alcohol at local eateries.
The government plans to halt, in principle, the implementation of a program to check whether people visiting places like restaurants have been vaccinated twice or have proof of having tested negative for COVID-19 as a way of reviving economic activity, but still leave some room for governors to implement it on its own.
«We are aware that there are hopes for utilizing the program based on decisions by governors, who best know local situations,» Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.
The governors of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in western Japan are planning to discuss whether to seek quasi-emergency curbs at a virtual meeting on Wednesday.
Matsuno said if the three prefectures make requests to be added to the list, the government will swiftly review them.