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 a record 367 cases of coronavirus infection on Thursday. That's one more than the previous high of 366 cases on July 23. Of the latest number, 236 or 64% were people aged in their 20s and 30s, officials said.
Tokyo plans to urge shorter operating hours for restaurants and karaoke parlors next month to tackle the recent spike in infections, officials said.
The metropolitan government is considering a compensation of 200,000 yen to establishments that comply with its request to close at 10 p.m. from Monday until Aug 31, it said.
Infections are spreading rapidly not only in Tokyo, but also in other regions, including remote islands. 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, on July 22 that aimed to revive a battered tourism industry despite a resurgence in coronavirus infection.
"It's become a habit for me to check the number plates of cars to see whether they come from outside the prefecture. I'm not going to lie, I get a bit shocked when I see that someone's visiting from far away," said Keiko Tsukahara, the co-manager of an inn in the hot springs town of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. "But we have had zero income for the past few months and we need customers."
Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita, however, ordered 21 city buildings and other city-owned tourist attractions to be closed over the long holiday last weekend as he prioritized health over business.
The small town in Aomori Prefecture has only one hospital, with just four beds for patients with infectious diseases. It has so far reported no COVID-19 cases.
"As we experience the second wave of cases, it shouldn’t be a choice between our lives or the economy. Our only option is whether we can protect and save lives," said Miyashita.
A member of the World Health Organization's influenza panel said the Go To campaign was ill-timed, and it has created a dilemma for those who fear the spread of the virus but are in desperate need of business.
"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," Norio Sugaya said.
"Doctors will soon be signalling the red light. Hospitals will soon be filled, so will ICUs (intensive care units)."© Thomson Reuters 2020.