After a record number of cases, the archipelago on “maximum alert”

At the exit of a subway station, in Tokyo on November 19, 2020. – Taketo Oishi

Even though the situation is worrying, the Japanese authorities have not yet announced any new health restriction measures. But that could change. Japan is in fact on “high alert” after registering a record number of daily coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday.

A brutal upsurge

More than 2,000 new positive Covid-19 cases were recorded in the country on Wednesday, including nearly 500 in Tokyo, two new records, according to official figures. Although relatively low compared to other countries, these figures show a sudden resurgence of the pandemic in the Japanese archipelago, where tests are not carried out on a large scale.

“I ask the Japanese people to systematically take measures such as wearing a mask,” Yoshihide Suga advocated, deeming it desirable to resort to them even during conversations at restaurants. According to public broadcaster NHK, the Japanese leader called expert meetings Thursday and Friday to address the growing number of infections before the government considers further measures. The prime minister said he would support departments that call for businesses to close earlier, and that restrictions such as limiting dining to four people should be considered.

Measures not compulsory

The Japanese capital is expected to raise its alert level to its maximum level on Thursday, but this does not automatically imply restrictions and local media deem it unlikely that businesses will be called upon to restrict their opening hours. The various measures adopted in Japan since the start of the pandemic have never been compulsory, appealing to the responsibility of the population and social pressure, including during the state of emergency in the spring.

The country has increased the number of tests it performs, but it remains relatively low: only 5,000 to 6,000 people are tested daily in the Japanese capital of some 14 million people. Since January, Japan has recorded a total of 121,000 cases of coronavirus and just over 1,900 deaths.

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