TOKYO: The Japanese government is becoming increasingly cautious over a possible seventh wave of the novel coronavirus as daily infection numbers rebound across the country.
Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio is holding back from starting a tourism promotion campaign that he previously sought to begin early this month, amid fears that it could accelerate the spread of the virus.
“We’ll respond (to the COVID-19 resurgence) with a strong sense of awareness and caution,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a press conference Friday.
“We want to monitor the state of infections a little more,” Kihara said regarding the launch of the government’s tourism promotion scheme. “We haven’t set any deadline.”
COVID-19 cases had been on the decline since peaking in February. But an expert panel at the health ministry said Thursday that infection numbers “have swung up nationwide,” citing week-on-week increases in cases in 29 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Meanwhile, the Tokyo metropolitan government upgraded its COVID-19 alert by one notch to the second-highest level on its four-tier scale, saying that infections are “spreading again.”
The resurgence is believed to stem from declines in immunity for many people who received their booster vaccine shots early and from the increasing prevalence of the highly infectious BA.5 omicron variant.
“We are closely monitoring how much momentum the coronavirus has,” a government source said.
Kishida’s tourism promotion scheme, replacing the Go To Travel initiative halted at the end of 2020, will offer discounts on travel expenses through a government subsidy.
The prime minister, who views the recovery of social and economic activities from the coronavirus crisis as a key target, told a press conference June 15 that he hoped to begin the campaign in the first half of July after examining the infection situation in June.
But the situation has begun to worsen. Some in the government are becoming cautious about launching the scheme as planned.
“It is especially difficult to decide because the country is in an election campaign period,” a senior official at the prime minister’s office said, hinting that a decision may be made after the July 10 election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of the country’s parliament.