Japan to declare COVID-19 curbs in 3 regions hosting U.S. bases
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan is to step up coronavirus restrictions in three regions that host U.S. military bases to stem a COVID-19 surge that some officials have said the bases have helped fuel.
The restrictions, which authorities call “priority measures”, are being brought back for the first time since September, when Japan lifted emergency controls that had prevailed across the country for most of last year.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a meeting the measures, which will allow steps such as limiting the operating hours of restaurants and bars, were needed to rein in surging cases.
The infectious Omicron variant has been found in about 80% of Japanese prefectures. Total new infections will exceed 5,000 on Friday, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, compared with an average of about 200 a day last month.
“We must be prepared for the rapid spread of infection,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters.
“There are cases where there is no history of overseas travel and the route of infection is unknown, while the Delta strain also continues to spread.”
The new measures in the southern prefecture of Okinawa and the western prefectures of Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, will last from Sunday to the end of the month.
All three regions host bases for the U.S. military, which on Thursday announced stricter infection controls at Japan’s urging after outbreaks at bases appeared to have spilled into communities.
Governors of the prefectures had requested the tougher measures after seeing a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.
The southern island chain of Okinawa, host to 70% of U.S. military facilities in Japan, has been the hardest hit, in what appears to be the country’s sixth wave of the pandemic.
The prefecture reported 1,414 new cases on Friday, a record and up from 981 on Thursday.
“This number will likely stay high and steadily increase,” said Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who has harshly criticised infection controls at U.S. bases.
Infections have also been on the rise in major metropolitan areas. Tokyo said it found 922 new cases on Friday, the most since Sept. 15.
Tokyo’s government is planning to strengthen countermeasures by directing restaurants to limit diners to groups of four, down from eight, the Kyodo news agency reported.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)