TOKYO: The Japanese government formally decided Wednesday to add 13 prefectures to the list of those in the COVID-19 pre-emergency stage, amid the spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.
The 13 prefectures are Tokyo, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Niigata, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki.
They will be in the pre-emergency stage for about three weeks from Friday through Feb. 13. Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures are already on the list.
To curb infections, the prefectures will take steps such as asking restaurants and bars to shorten operating hours.
Furthermore, the government is considering adding Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures to the pre-emergency list as early as next week if requested by them, informed sources said.
“We need to clamp down on the rising COVID-19 cases through well-balanced measures,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a meeting of the government’s pandemic response headquarters.
Kishida indicated that the central government will encourage local governments to make preparations so that secured medical resources will be fully used.
In the three-week pre-emergency period, the central government hopes that local governments will implement thorough COVID-19 measures in the first two weeks or so and assess the effects of the measures in the remaining period.
Eating and drinking establishments certified by the prefectural governments as taking infection prevention measures will be asked to close by 9 p.m., while uncertified operators will be urged to close by 8 p.m.
Gifu, Nagasaki and Miyazaki prefectures have decided to ask restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol altogether. Meanwhile, others including Tokyo plan to allow alcoholic beverages to be served at certified businesses.
The so-called vaccine and testing package, a program to relax restrictions on people’s movements, will be suspended in principle, while prefectural governors will call on people not to dine in a group of five or more people.
Still, each local government will be given the authority to approve dining in a group of five or more people and holding events with venues at full capacity on the condition of conducting coronavirus tests on all attendees.
In Japan, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases hit a record high above 40,000 on Wednesday, only a week after topping 10,000 on Jan. 12.
Although the proportion of severe COVID-19 cases stays relatively low, experts fear that a surge in cases among elderly people could strain medical services.
“Restricting the number of people (getting together) is more important than curbing people’s movements now,” Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s coronavirus expert panel, told reporters.
Omi explained that infection risks are higher when people drink together than when they are at Shibuya Ward’s famous scramble crossing.