Japan expands COVID restrictions, including in Tokyo, as cases rise | Radio WGN 720

FILE – People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk along a pedestrian crossing on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Tokyo. The Japanese government announced Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, that it will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under near-emergency status for COVID-19 beginning Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten restaurant opening hours. , as a rise in omicron cases threatens to cripple society. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other regions under new COVID-19 restrictions beginning Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten restaurant hours as a rise in coronavirus cases increases. ‘omicron threatens to cripple society.

A government-mandated panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 zones under a three-week restriction until February 13, said Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of measures against viruses.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to formally announce the new measures at a government task force meeting later on Wednesday.

Japan has so far resisted using lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead 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 minimize damage to the economy.

Japan has gradually expanded its social and business activities 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 first two doses. of vaccines.

But experts say breakthrough infections with 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. The sharp rise in infections has already begun to cripple hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.

The national government is taking action following demands from local governors, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who has sounded the alarm about the possibility that essential public services, such as public transport and garbage collection, could be paralyzed.

Tokyo reported 5,185 new infections on Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has recorded more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million, with 184,000 deaths.

More than 134,000 patients are now quarantined or hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the health ministry.

Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser, said vaccines no longer offered reliable protection against the omicron variant, making testing and social curbs among the only effective and realistic measures to prevent more infections.

Restrictions will be in place in 16 regions of the country, including three other prefectures – Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi – which were subject to similar measures earlier this month.

Other areas, including hard-hit Osaka, where 5,396 new cases were reported on Tuesday, may be added later.

While around 80% of Japanese people received their first two doses of the vaccine, the nationwide booster rollout was slow and reached only 1.3% of the population.

The government recently decided to reduce the intervals between second and third shots to six months instead of eight for older people, but younger people are unlikely to get their turn before March or later.

While Kishida points to the need for security as a justification for the restrictions, the measures are also seen as political moves to gain public support ahead of parliamentary elections this summer.

Critics also say the measures, which almost exclusively target bars and restaurants, make little sense and are unfair.

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