People wearing protective face masks walk on the street, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan November 19.
Japanese health experts said the government should consider pausing its domestic travel campaign in some regions amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases and as the nation heads into a holiday weekend.
The expert panel recommended excluding regions from the government's Go To Travel campaign if conditions worsen. It also said local governments should ask restaurants and bars to shorten business hours for about three weeks to dent the spike in cases. "Stronger measures will be taken in a short period of time and in high-risk areas to avoid the kind of situation that would require the declaration of a state of emergency," economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters on Friday after meeting with the experts. New cases have surged to record levels in Japan this week, prompting Tokyo municipal authorities to raise the city's epidemic alert to the highest level. The government declared a state of emergency in April as Covid-19 hospitalizations brought the medical system to the brink of collapse. It has resisted the recent calls to curtail its domestic travel push, aimed at reviving local economies. The resurgence in infections comes as Japan starts an extended weekend due to a public holiday on Monday. Compared to the previous wave, the current spike is affecting more older people, and infections are largely taking place within families and at facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. Along with Tokyo, other hot spots include the northern island of Hokkaido and the western prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo. "Tokyo and Hokkaido are entering an exponential growth phase," said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Population Health at King's College, London. "If they do not control the infection, another SOE (state of emergency) would be inevitable and the economic consequences would be substantial." In raising the capital's alert level on Thursday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike called for maximum caution as the year-end party season approaches. Japan's tally of new cases reached a record 2,414 cases on Friday, according to public broadcaster NHK. Severe cases nationwide are also at an all-time high of 280, according to the latest data. With about 126,000 cases and 1,955 fatalities, Japan has weathered the pandemic better than most major economies.