The Japanese capital Tokyo has reported more than 500 new cases of Covid-19 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, prompting the city’s government to raise its alert to its highest level.
Justin McCurry, our correspendent in Tokyo, reports:
The new alert level, which means that infections are “spreading”, has not been in place since early September, when it was lowered to level three, meaning “infections “appear to be spreading”.
The alerts, however, are meant only to reflect the current status of the coronavirus and do necessarily mean new restrictions will be introduced.
The Kyodo news agency said the Tokyo metropolitan government was not expected to ask bars, restaurants and other businesses to restrict their opening hours – a measure it has taken in response to previous surges in infections.
Japanese authorities do not have the legal powers to enforce European-style lockdowns or restrictions on business operations.
The northern-most main island of Hokkaido is also expected to report a daily record of more than 240 cases on Thursday. The governor, Naomichi Suzuki, has already asked residents of Sapporo, the island’s biggest city, to avoid non-essential outings and was the first to declare a local state of emergency during the initial wave of infections in late February.
Tokyo has now seen a record number of new infections for the second day in a row, while Wednesday set a new nationwide record with 2,201 cases. Japan has recorded a total of 121,963 infections and 1,933 deaths. Tokyo is the worst-hit region with more than 35,000 cases in all.
While Japan has fared better during the pandemic than many other countries, fears are growing for a sustained rise in cases as winter approaches and people spend more time in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, including restaurants.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters on Thursday that Japan was on “maximum alert”. But he did not announce new restrictions and said government-subsidised travel and dining campaigns would remain in place.
Instead, Suga asked people to continue wearing masks even when they eat out, removing them only briefly to eat and drink.
“I ask citizens once again to be vigilant about taking basic precautions,” he told reporters. “We ask that people engage in quiet, masked, dining. I will do the same starting today.”
Shigeru Omi, who leads the government’s expert panel on the virus, has called for tougher preventive measures. “We are on the verge of a situation where we will be forced to more strictly limit economic and social activities,” he told a parliamentary session on Wednesday, according to public broadcaster NHK. “To avoid that, we need to raise our guard once again.”