Japan braces for spike in coronavirus cases amid domestic travel campaign

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask is seen at an almost closed restaurants' alley during a Golden Week, a week-long holiday in Japan, under a nationwide state of emergency as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Tokyo, Japan

Japan is bracing for a surge in the number of coronavirus infection after fresh cases exceeded the 1,000 mark for the first time, a week after the start of a national travel campaign to revive the tourism industry.

Tokyo confirmed 367 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, national broadcaster NHK said, topping the previous record of 366 cases on July 23.

Japan had 1,264 new cases on Wednesday, according to NHK, surpassing the previous record of 981, with infections spreading rapidly not only in Tokyo, but also in other regions, including remote islands.

Northern Japan’s Iwate prefecture, which had been the last-remaining prefecture free from coronavirus infection, had its first cases on Wednesday, while the southern island of Okinawa had 44 infections, hitting a record for the third day in a row.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government launched a national travel campaign, dubbed “Go To Travel”, on July 22 that aimed to revive a battered tourism industry despite a resurgence in coronavirus infection.

Norio Sugaya, a member of the World Health Organization’s influenza panel, said the campaign is ill-timed.

“I’m all for supporting the tourism industry … But we should not do that when infection is resurgent. The virus spreads as people move. This is clearly a mistake,” Sugaya said.

“Doctors will soon be signalling the red light,” Sugaya added. “Hospitals will soon be filled, so will ICUs (intensive care units).”

Tokyo plans to urge shorter operating hours for restaurants and karaoke parlours next month to tackle a recent spike in coronavirus infections, the Nikkei business daily said.

The metropolitan government is considering a compensation of 200,000 yen (1,466 pounds)to stores that comply with its request to close at 10 p.m. during the period from Monday until Aug. 31, it said.

Besides promoting domestic trips, Japan is slowly reopening to foreigners.

The government plans to allow foreign students and workers to return to Japan starting Aug. 5, the foreign ministry said.

The measure will be applied to some 90,000 people who left Japan before their destination was named as one of the 146 countries from which Japan is banning visits, the ministry said.

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