Japan expands curbs amid virus surge

Worrying times: A man sitting with his bike near cooling water mist at a park in Tokyo. Japan’s new curbs come as new daily cases in Tokyo hit a record 5,042. — Reuters

TOKYO: Japan decided to expand its Covid-19 emergency curbs to cover more than 70% of the population, as a record surge in cases strained hospitals in the Olympics host city Tokyo and other parts of the country.

Japan had avoided the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere.

But infections are rising fast as new cases hit record highs in Tokyo, overshadowing the July 23-Aug 8 Olympics and fuelling doubts over Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pandemic response.

Suga yesterday announced the new steps – which are mostly voluntary, unlike strict lockdowns overseas – as new daily cases in Tokyo hit a record 5,042.

Nationwide new cases topped 15,000 for the first time, while medical advisers to the capital said the Tokyo figure could double in two weeks, NHK public TV reported.

“The situation on the ground (at hospitals) is extremely severe,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a panel of experts before Suga’s formal announcement.

He said serious cases had doubled in the past two weeks.

The panel signed off on the proposal to declare “quasi-emergencies” in eight more of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

But Nishimura told a news conference some members had said the situation was severe enough to require a nationwide emergency.

Suga told reporters that the government was “not considering that now” and would focus on hotspot areas.

Six prefectures, including Tokyo, are already under full states of emergency to last through Aug 31 and another five are under less strict directives, meaning just over half the population is covered by some restrictions.

Both types of curbs have recently focused on asking restaurants to close early and stop serving alcohol while urging people to stay at home as much as possible.

Suga also asked people to refrain from travelling during the summer holidays.

The latest steps, to take effect from Sunday, mean that more than 70% of the population will be under some form of restriction.

Criticism of Suga, his ratings already at record lows, is growing over his handling of the pandemic.

The government added that the Olympics has not caused the latest surge, but experts say holding the Games now has sent a mixed message to an already weary public about the need to stay at home. —Reuters

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