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Japan is set to expand COVID-19 edge bars as Omicron drives record-high infections

TOKYO, Jan. 19 (Reuters) - Japan on Wednesday was ready to expand COVID-19 border rods to the capital Tokyo and a dozen regions covering half the population as the Omicron variant of coronavirus drives record new infections.

Already in force in three regions, the measures, which are due to run from Friday to 13 February, are expected to be approved by the Prime Minister after receiving the signature of an expert panel.

The quasi-emergency measures, as they are called, allow governors to restrict mobility and business activities by shortening the opening hours of bars and restaurants and excluding the sale of alcohol.

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"Although the measures will not be as effective as when the number was smaller, I think they can still alleviate things," said Gautam Deshpande, a doctor at St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo.

"The horse is only half out of the stable at the moment."

Japan added more than 32,000 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, showed a statement from the national television station NHK, and exceeded a peak in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.

Tokyo set a daily record on Wednesday with 7,377 new infections, just as Western prefect Osaka did with more than 6,000.

Although Omicron is more contagious than previous variants, it appears to cause less serious illness, but public health experts still worry that a wave of such cases could overwhelm the healthcare system.

Japan has declared a state of emergency four times during the pandemic and vaccinated about 80% of its population of 126 million, even though its booster dose program has only reached 1.2%.

Authorities have "pulled their feet with boosters," Deshpande added.

Japan rolled out quasi-emergency silencers this month in three regions hosting US military facilities after it appeared base eruptions of Omicron were pouring into surrounding communities. Read more

Tokyo's occupancy rate for hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, a figure closely monitored by authorities, rose to 25.9% on Wednesday. An increase to 50% will justify escalation to a full state of emergency, officials have said.

As a sign that the pandemic is weighing on the economy, Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said it canceled a factory change in Toyota City after eight workers tested positive.

And the Japan National Tourism Organization said last year's 245,900 overseas visitors were the fewest registered, back to 1964.

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Reporting by Rocky Swift, Kantaro Komiya, Chang-Ran Kim; Editing Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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