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Japan set to declare COVID-19 curbs in 3 regions hosting US bases

Japan set to declare COVID-19 curbs in 3 regions hosting US bases

FILE PHOTO: Passers-by wearing protective face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walk at a shopping arcade in the prefectural capital Naha, on the southern island of Okinawa. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO: Japan is to step up coronavirus restrictions in three regions that host US 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 that 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 per cent of Japanese prefectures, and coronavirus cases are surging. 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, affecting the southern prefecture of Okinawa and the western prefectures of Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, would last from Sunday until the end of the month.

All three regions host bases for the US military, which on Thursday announced stricter infection controls at Japan's urging after on-base outbreaks appeared to have spilled into surrounding communities.

Governors of the prefectures had requested the quasi-emergency steps, which include limited opening hours for bars and restaurants, after seeing a surge in cases, driven by the Omicron variant.

The southern island chain of Okinawa, host to 70 per cent of US military facilities in Japan, has been the hardest hit so far, in what appears to be the nation'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 US bases there.

Infections have also been on the rise in major metropolitan areas. Tokyo said it found 922 new cases on Friday, the most since Sep 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. 

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Source: Reuters/gs

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