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Japan government panel requests 3 prefectures enact measures to curb COVID

Randy Mancini 13 Jan 6
People wearing protective face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walk along the Kokusai-dori in the prefectural capital Naha, Okinawa
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walk along the Kokusai-dori in the prefectural capital Naha, on the southern island of Okinawa, Okinawa prefecture, Japan, October 25, 2021. Picture taken October 25, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

January 7, 2022

TOKYO (Reuters) -A Japanese government panel put forward a request on Friday to declare quasi-emergency measures in three regions to stem a COVID-19 surge that some officials have linked to U.S. military bases in the country.

If approved, it would mark the first such measures since September, when Japan lifted emergency controls that had prevailed over the country for most of last year.

Official approval is expected later on Friday after a meeting of health experts.

The infectious Omicron variant has been found in about 80% of Japanese prefectures, and coronavirus cases are surging. New infections exceeded 4,000 nationwide on Wednesday, compared with an average of about 200 per day last month.

“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,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters.

“We must be prepared for the rapid spread of infection in the future,” he added.

The new measures, affecting the southern prefecture of Okinawa and the western prefectures of Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, would last from Jan. 9 until the end of the month.

All three regions host bases for the U.S. 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 infectious Omicron variant.

The southern island chain of Okinawa, host to 70% of U.S. 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 is expected to report more than 1,400 new cases on Friday, Okinawa TV reported, a new record and up from 981 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan)