TOKYO: Japan on Monday (Jan 24) prepared to double the number of regions enacting shortened operating hours for restaurants and other infection curbs to contain a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
The central government has received requests for the so-called quasi-emergency measures from another 18 prefectures, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
The measures allow regional governors to order curbs on mobility and business, such as making restaurants and bars close early and restricting alcohol sales.
Japan has declared various levels of emergency multiple times during the two-year pandemic. A full state of emergency might involve closures of venues serving alcohol, attendance restrictions at sporting and cultural events and fines for non-compliant businesses.
Japan recorded more than 54,000 new infections on Saturday, the highest ever, driven by the infectious Omicron variant.
A stretched medical system amid the fast-spreading variant has led the government to allow doctors to diagnose those who have been in close contact with infected persons and who show COVID-19 symptoms as being infected without testing - if such a move is judged as necessary by local governments.
"To prepare against further rapid spread of infected persons, we presented (new) policy that will enable local authorities to swiftly conduct appropriate testing and treatment of patients by their own judgment," health minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters after a meeting with Kishida.
The northern island Hokkaido and the western prefecture of Osaka are among those asking for the curbs. The government will decide on the expansion swiftly, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said earlier.
If widened, the curbs would cover 34 of Japan's 47 prefectures, including the capital of Tokyo.
That could deal another blow to private consumption that makes up more than half the Japanese economy, which is still reeling from pandemic curbs from last year, some analysts estimated.
"The latest expansion of the quasi-emergency measures to another 18 prefectures would bring the loss in private consumption to a total of 2.256 trillion yen (US$19.83 billion)," said Nomura Research Institute executive economist Takahide Kiuchi.
The total economic loss from the measures would equal 0.41 per cent of Japan's nominal gross domestic product, he said.
Japan has recorded 2.1 million coronavirus cases and 18,498 deaths during the pandemic.