Japan plans to issue near-emergency status for 13 omicron-hit prefectures


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said late Tuesday that the government plans to take near-emergency measures for 13 prefectures where the omicron variant of the coronavirus is surging as nationwide cases hit a record 30,000.

The 13 prefectures are: Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gunma, Niigata, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki and Kagawa.

With near-emergency measures already in place in Yamaguchi, Okinawa and Hiroshima prefectures, applying it to the other 13 prefectures that have requested or may request such measures would bring the total to 16 out of 47 prefectures. , Kyoto and Hyogo are also considering doing the same, with plans for governors to hold talks on Wednesday.

The government’s COVID-19 task force meeting will be held on Wednesday to make the official decision, he said.

Kishida also said the government plans to temporarily suspend its so-called vaccination testing package which will allow local governments to exempt people vaccinated against COVID-19 or with a negative test result from pandemic restrictions to maintain activities. economic and social.

“In principle, we will temporarily suspend the vaccination test package for the time being,” Kishida told reporters. “But we will make sure that governors can decide” to go ahead with the program.

Yet the move would pour cold water on Japan’s attempt, where nearly 80% of the population has received two vaccines, to encourage people to dine with friends and family, travel and go to concerts and movies even if the virus continues to spread.

As part of the vaccine testing package, restrictions on dining out with larger numbers of people are relaxed even if an area is in a state of emergency or near-emergency, as long as participants have been vaccinated two times or have proof of a negative test. Spectator attendance limits for large-scale events such as concerts are also being relaxed.

The rapid spread of the omicron variant has prompted Japan to regularly review its policies. As of Tuesday, cases nationwide were over 30,000 – a new record. On the same day, Osaka reported 5,396 cases, while Tokyo reported 5,185 cases.

With the rollout of booster shots in Japan still limited — medical workers began receiving their third doses in December, while the majority of people are still waiting for theirs — breakthrough cases are becoming a problem. In Aichi Prefecture, 67 of 74 people who tested positive for COVID-19 as of Jan. 10 — about 90 percent — had been vaccinated twice, according to Tokai TV.

People line up to take PCR tests in Tokyo earlier this month. | KYODO

Such a declaration will be effective from Friday to February 13, Kishida said. But the exact restrictions to be imposed on restaurants and other businesses will vary by prefecture and depend on the scale of infections and other factors.

“We are not considering restricting alcohol service at designated restaurants as taking necessary virus countermeasures,” Chiba Governor Toshihito Kumagai said Monday, adding that the prefecture will ask them to shorten hours. opening. “For other restaurants, we will ask them to stop serving alcohol.”

As part of near-emergency measures, governors can order or request that food establishments shorten their hours of operation and stop serving alcohol in specific areas of the prefecture. Businesses will be fined up to ¥200,000 if they fail to comply. Residents of these areas would also be asked to refrain from crossing prefectural borders.

Under the stricter state of emergency, governors can order or direct businesses to close, in addition to shortening business hours and refraining from serving alcohol, with the orders applying. throughout the prefecture. Violation fines can reach up to ¥300,000.

Commuters in Tokyo on Monday |  Reuters
Commuters in Tokyo on Monday | Reuters

The occupancy rate of beds reserved for coronavirus patients is on the rise in some prefectures. From Tuesday, 23.4% of those hospital beds in Tokyo were occupied, while 10,814 people were recovering at home. The figure was higher in Saitama and Osaka, where occupancy rates were 30.5% and 28.9%, respectively, on Monday.

Some sporting events have already been canceled due to omicron, such as the Kirin Cup soccer match between Japan and Uzbekistan, which was scheduled for Friday at Saitama Stadium.

Kyodo information added

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