Japan Braces for Spike in Coronavirus Cases Amid Domestic Travel Campaign

Northern Japan's Iwate prefecture, which had been the last-remaining prefecture free from COVID-19 infection, had the first cases on Wednesday

Japan is getting ready for a rise in the number of coronavirus or COVID-19 cases after the new daily cases exceeded 1,000 for a second straight day, a week after the beginning of a national travel campaign for reviving the tourism industry.

The country had 1,266 new cases of the deadly novel virus on Thursday, as per a tally by the national broadcaster NHK, crossing the previous record of 1,264, with the cases spreading rapidly not only in Tokyo but also in other regions including the remote islands.

Japan Bracing for Spike in COVID-19 Cases

Mobile photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020 shows Gao Yongzhe and Huang Wenli adjusting goggles and masks for each other at "Wuhan Livingroom" in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Doctor Gao Yongzhe and nurse Huang Wenli are a couple working at the frontline against the novel coronavirus. Although they both spend all day at "Wuhan Livingroom", a temporary hospital, the busy couple barely had time to meet each other. On Feb. 14, under the arrangement of the hospital, the couple met and had a lunch together. As Huang put it, it was their special and meaningful 23rd Valentine's Day even though there was no flower and gift. (Photo by Gao Xiang/Xinhua/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

, while the southern island of Okinawa had 44 infections, hitting a record for the third day in a row. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government launched a national travel campaign on July 22 that aimed to revive a battered tourism industry despite a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

A member of the World Health Organization's influenza panel said the campaign was ill-timed, and it has created a dilemma for those who fear the spread of the virus but are in desperate need of business. "It's become a habit for me to check the number plates of cars to see whether they come from outside the prefecture. I'm not going to lie, I get a bit shocked when I see that someone's visiting from far away," said Keiko Tsukahara, the co-manager of an inn in the hot springs town of Nikko, north of Tokyo.

"But we have had zero income for the past few months and we need customers." Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita, however, ordered 21 city buildings and other city-owned tourist attractions to be closed over the long holiday last weekend as he prioritised health over business.

The small town in northern Japan's Aomori prefecture has only one hospital, with just four beds for patients with infectious diseases. It has so far reported no COVID-19 cases. "As we experience the second wave of cases, it shouldn't be a choice between our lives or the economy. Our only option is whether we can protect and save lives," said Miyashita. He added that any travel subsidy programme should have been rolled out at a later stage when the situation had stabilised.

'Clearly a Mistake'

The WHO panel's Norio Sugaya criticised the timing of Abe's campaign. "I'm all for supporting the tourism industry ... But we should not do that when infection is resurgent. The virus spreads as people move. This is clearly a mistake," Sugaya said. "Doctors will soon be signalling the red light. Hospitals will soon be filled, so will ICUs (intensive care units)."

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged shorter operating hours for restaurants which serve alcohol and karaoke parlours next month to tackle the recent spike in infections. The metropolitan government will offer compensation of 200,000 yen ($1,900) to stores that comply with its request to close at 10 p.m. from Monday until Aug. 31.

Besides promoting domestic trips, Japan is slowly reopening to foreigners. The government plans to allow foreign students and workers to return starting Aug. 5, the foreign ministry said. The measure will be applied to some 90,000 people who left Japan before their destination was named as one of the 146 countries from which Japan is banning visits, the ministry said.

(With agency inputs)

Related topics : Coronavirus