Japan to Widen COVID-19 Curbs Amid Surge

Tokyo and other regions in Japan would face new coronavirus restrictions effective Friday, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Tokyo and 12 other areas would be placed under a three-week quasi-state emergency from Friday through February 13, following endorsement by experts and the parliament.

“This has been a fight against an unknown virus, but we hope to overcome this situation by preparing sufficiently without fearing excessively,” Kishida said. 

Tokyo logged 7,377 new cases on Wednesday, its highest number since its previous record of 5,908 on August 13. 

Japan has resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead has focused on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol.

According to the Health Ministry, Japan logged more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million cases, with 184,00 deaths. 

Shigeru Omi, Japan’s top medical adviser, said vaccines no longer offer reliable protection against the Omicron variant but said it is not necessary to halt social and economic activities, instead, he urged people to avoid high-risk situations such as gathering in large numbers and speaking in loud voices.

“I think we don’t need to have eateries close if people dine in a group of about four and speak quietly while wearing face masks,” Omi said.

Japan has recorded a vaccination rate of 80%, but the rollout of booster shots nationwide has been slow and has reached only 1.3% of the population.

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