TOKYO: The governors of Tokyo and surrounding prefectures agreed on Monday (Jan 17) to request further measures from the central government, including shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, to help counter rising COVID-19 infections.
The highly infectious Omicron variant is driving a resurgence in coronavirus cases, which are hovering near record levels, after new infections exceeded 25,000 nationwide in the past two days.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told an online meeting of governors that the occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients was estimated to have reached 20 per cent on Monday, a key threshold for requesting additional steps.
The measures being considered by the government will cover nine prefectures in addition to Tokyo, FNN reported earlier.
The move would follow curbs this month in three regions hosting US military facilities, after it appeared that base outbreaks of Omicron spilled into surrounding communities. The measures include shorter opening hours for restaurants and bars.
However, the effectiveness of emergency declarations in changing people's behaviour has waned after Japan repeatedly deployed the measure throughout the pandemic, said public health expert Kenji Shibuya.
"Omicron is a very important test case for any community," said Shibuya, who coordinates vaccine efforts in northern Japan, adding that authorities had to figure out how best to manage the disease while keeping up socio-economic activity.
The essential goal now is to accelerate booster shots, testing and handing out oral treatments to keep Omicron infections from overwhelming hospitals, he added.
Differing degrees of emergency measures adopted in various parts of Japan last year were lifted at the end of September.
A full declaration of emergency would be sought when occupancy of hospital beds in Tokyo reached half, Koike said last week.
The capital has allocated about 6,900 beds for coronavirus care, of a total of about 128,000 in the region.