TOKYO (AP) — Japan announced on Friday that it will raise the coronavirus alert level in Tokyo to allow tougher measures to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Japan’s national vaccination drive has lagged and most people in the capital still have not been inoculated as infections have surged.
The raised status announced by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will allow Tokyo’s governor to mandate shorter opening hours for restaurants, along with punishments for violators and compensation for those who comply. The measures are to begin tomorrow and continue through May 11.
Many of Tokyo’s cases have been linked to nightlife and dining, though they have recently spread to offices, elderly care facilities and schools, experts said. Suga also raised the alert level for Kyoto in western Japan and the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, where cases have surged in recent weeks.
The new status there is to continue through May 5, the end of Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays, to discourage travelling.
“We will do everything to contain infections within the affected areas and prevent them from spreading across the country,” Suga told reporters.
Under the measures, people are urged to avoid nonessential travel outside their cities, health officials will patrol restaurants to ensure safety measures are observed, and testing will be increased at elderly care facilities, Suga said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike asked residents to avoid non-essential trips and practice social distancing. She asked restaurants in many areas of the prefecture to close at 8pm. “In order to protect the medical systems in Tokyo, we have to work much harder to further reduce the movement of people,” Koike said. “We must curb the infections so we don’t have another resurgence at the time of the Olympics.”
“We must endure this difficult time until vaccines are widely available,” she added. The alert status was also raised last Monday for parts of three other prefectures — Osaka, neighbouring Hyogo and Miyagi in the north. They have had sharp increases in daily cases since early March.