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Japan widens Covid curbs as infections surge

2022-01-19 HKT 15:11
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  • A government-commissioned experts’ panel has approved a plan to put 13 areas –including Tokyo – under a three-week restraint through Feb 13. Photo: AP
    A government-commissioned experts’ panel has approved a plan to put 13 areas –including Tokyo – under a three-week restraint through Feb 13. Photo: AP
The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for Covid-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyse society.

A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb 13, said Economy Revitalisation Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially announce the new measures at a government taskforce meeting later Wednesday.

Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead has focused on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol, and asking the public to wear masks and practice social distancing, as the government seeks to minimise damage to the economy.

Japan had been gradually expanding social and business activity since an earlier wave of infections subsided in September, which experts say was largely due to the country’s rapid progress in rolling out the initial two doses of vaccines.

But experts say breakthrough infections by the omicron variant are more common.

The fast-spreading variant has caused a number of medical workers and others to self-isolate after testing positive or coming into close contact with someone who has.

Sharply rising infections have already begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.

Tokyo reported 5,185 new infections Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has logged more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million cases.

Restrictions will be in place in 16 areas around the country, including three other prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi — which were placed under similar measures earlier this month.

Other areas, including badly hit Osaka, where 5,396 new cases were reported Tuesday, may be added later. (AP)