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Amid virus surge, Japan could again turn to state of emergency, key official says

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japantimes– Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan’s coronavirus response, has cautioned the nation that a state of emergency may have to be imposed if further spread of the virus is not contained, saying the next three weeks will be “crucial” to prevent taking such strong measures.

“(Declaring) a state of emergency will come into view” if the spread is not contained in three weeks, he told a news conference Wednesday night following a meeting with a government panel of experts.

 

The panel recommended that people not travel to and from areas that have experienced a rapid increase of infections.

Taking preventive steps now is crucial to protect the country’s medical system, which is strained by the pandemic, Nishimura said.

The areas targeted for travel restrictions are those that should be rated Stage 3, the second-worst level on a four-tier system to measure the seriousness of the coronavirus situation, according to the panel led by Shigeru Omi, president of the Japan Community Health Care Organization.

The cities of Sapporo, Osaka and Nagoya, along with Tokyo’s 23 wards, are considered to be in Stage 3, Omi told a separate news conference.

Trips to and from Stage 3 areas should be avoided as much as possible, the panel said, adding that in these areas, reductions in business hours should also be considered urgently for bars and restaurants serving alcohol.

The panel stressed the importance of “taking powerful measures, intensively concentrating on the coming three weeks,” in areas where the infections are surging, so that the public will be able to spend the year-end and New Year’s holiday period calmly.

The central government has decided to temporarily exclude trips to Sapporo and Osaka from its Go To Travel tourism promotion program. The panel urged the government to consider excluding trips from the hot spots as well.

The panel said it is necessary to take steps to prevent medical service capacity shortages and reduce the workloads at public health centers.

In Stage 3 areas, even elderly people with the virus should be asked to stay home or at designated accommodations if they suffer no or only mild symptoms, the panel said.

The panel urged the government to consider utilizing the Self-Defense Forces to dispatch medical workers and transport patients in areas where the virus situation is deteriorating rapidly.

The panel’s recommendations were made as medical experts expressed a sense of crisis that the nation’s medical systems are at a critical situation.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, told a news conference Wednesday that the medical service system “is on the brink of collapsing.” The pace of the increase in infections is particularly fast in Hokkaido, the greater Tokyo area, the Kansai region and the Chubu region, he said.

“It’s becoming difficult for medical institutions to treat patients other than those with the coronavirus,” Nakagawa said.

The panel’s recommendations follows Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s announcement earlier Wednesday that bars and restaurants serving alcohol will be asked to shorten their business hours starting Saturday for three weeks.

The Tokyo government will provide ¥400,000 in financial support to businesses that comply with the request to close by 10 p.m. between Saturday and Dec. 17.

“The capital is in a very serious situation in terms of infections,” Koike told a new conference. “I understand that the current situation makes it necessary for the imposition of further measures.”