Officials in Japan have warned of an upcoming third wave of Covid infections as cases rise as a result of colder weather and a government campaign encouraging tourism.
Japan expects third Covid wave
The number of daily Covid cases is increasing again after several weeks of staying relatively stable. Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister of Japan, promised to acquire enough vaccines to cover Japan’s entire population. Japan reported 1,284 new Covid infections on Tuesday, bringing its total to 111,222 according to official statistics. The death toll currently stands at 1,864.
While Japan has not seen the large number of cases and deaths seen in the UK, US and other countries due to widespread mask wearing but the decision to promote tourism in July seems to have contributed to a new wave of infections.
Cases are rising in Japan’s epicentre, Tokyo, with more than 33,000 cases, and in other large cities such as Osaka, Kanagawa and Aichi. Hideaki Omura, Aichi’s governor, said last week: “Effectively the third wave has arrived.” Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, managed to contain a large outbreak after declaring a state of emergency in February, but daily cases soared above 200 for the first time since the start of the pandemic this week with total infections reaching 4,364. The majority of cases are in Sapporo, its biggest city which has a large nightlife economy.
Bars and clubs have been asked to close between 10pm and 5am and restaurants to stop serving alcohol after 10pm. “I don’t think Hokkaido is the only place that needs countermeasures to cope with lower temperatures and changes in the environment,” Hokkaido’s governor, Naomichi Suzuki, declared.
Japan has emphasised mask-wearing and the need to avoid the “three Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings – all of which are difficult to follow during the winter. Experts have requested additional measures, warning that there will be a rapid rise in cases if nothing is done.
Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary, suggested that Hokkaido could be removed from Go To Travel, a government campaign that provides subsidies for tourists in an attempt to boost the economy. Suga rejected the notion saying: “We’re monitoring the situation and we will carry out the campaign, taking into account the views of experts. Currently there are no plans to exclude Hokkaido from the programme.”
A specialist in infectious diseases at Kobe University hospital, Kentaro Iwata, declared that the recent rise in infections was “a combination of the Go To campaign, complacency among people and politicians, with the additional potential factor of lower temperatures. We need to be determined in lowering the infection rate. Sporadic measures will only prolong the problem. Decreasing opportunities to get infected is the simplest way to lower the number of cases, so politicians need to offer direct [financial] support to people who need it, not a travel campaign that is helping to spread the disease.”