Japan’s COVID-19 cases hit record high for fourth day

Japan mulls imposing limits on large gatherings a day after dialling back key domestic travel campaign.

People in protective face masks walk on the street amid the coronavirus outbreak. Tokyo, Japan, November 19, 2020 [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The daily tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan has hit a record for the fourth day and a senior official says Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government may reimpose limits on sports and other large events to curb the surge.

The Japanese Health Ministry reported 2,508 cases on Sunday, the second time the daily tally topped 2,500. In the Japanese capital, Tokyo, the daily infection rate was an all-time high 539 cases.

Japan has had fewer than 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths so far – avoiding the toll of harder-hit nations –  but fears are growing of another surge and local media say hospital capacity is being tested in the hardest-hit areas as a growing number of severely ill patients occupy a dwindling number of available beds.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economy minister, told public broadcaster NHK on Sunday that the government was mulling reimposing attendance limits on large gatherings in areas of the country seeing a sharp increase in cases.

He said the government was also considering how to refund customers who booked trips via a domestic tourism campaign that was partially suspended on Saturday.

The halting of the GoTo programme – which encouraged travel and dining out with discounts – marked a change in direction for Suga, who has been attempting a balancing act of revitalising Japan’s hard-hit economy while keeping the coronavirus under control.

Critics say the move was too little, too late as it came after many people had already made travel reservations for a three-day Thanksgiving weekend in Japan.

Airports and restaurants have been packed, and some say the government should have offered to pay for cancellations, or stepped up PCR testing instead, if the goal is to keep the economy going amid a pandemic.

Tutorials are circulating online on the proper way to eat and drink at restaurants while wearing masks.

Meanwhile, NHK on Sunday said Japan’s “hospitals are under strain”, with bed occupancy rates topping 30 percent in seven of the country’s 47 prefectures, including Hyogo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Aichi and Tokyo.

In the past week alone, the number of hospitalised patients rose by 32 percent, NHK said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies