Japan widens Covid-19 controls as the Omicron variant drives new infections to record levels

, Japan widens Covid-19 controls as the Omicron variant drives new infections to record levels

Japan was poised on Wednesday to widen Covid-19 controls to cover half its population as the Omicron variant drives new infections to record levels.

According to a report by Reuters, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially approve the plan after it was cleared by an expert panel.

The so-called quasi-emergency measures permit governors to impose curbs on mobility and business, including shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, as well as prohibitions on alcohol sales.

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The measures, already in place in three regions, will widen to cover Tokyo and 12 other prefectures, lasting from Friday until Feb. 13.

Japan recorded more than 32,000 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK, exceeding the previous high seen in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.

The western prefecture of Osaka posted a record 5,396 new cases, while Tokyo had 5,185, the highest since Aug. 21.

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Omicron is more infectious than previous coronavirus variants but appears to cause less serious conditions. Even so, public health experts are concerned that a wave of Omicron cases could overwhelm the healthcare system.

Japan has vaccinated about 80 percent of its population against Covid-19, but its booster shot program has barely gotten off the ground.

Japan this month declared quasi-emergency curbs in three regions hosting U.S. military facilities, after it appeared that base outbreaks of Omicron spilled into surrounding communities.

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Tokyo’s occupancy rate of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, a closely watched metric, rose to 23.4 percent on Tuesday. An increase to 50 percent would warrant declaration of a full state of emergency, officials have said.

@Reuters

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