Japan urges a 'quiet' year-end, but to keep up tourism campaign

Any decisions to halt the "Go To Travel" campaign would represent a U-turn by Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's government urged people on Friday (Dec 11) to spend a "quiet" year-end after daily coronavirus infections hit a record, but said it would keep providing subsidies to promote tourism despite media reports that it may pause the campaign.

"The reports are not true, we will continue to operate it in an appropriate way, striving to prevent infections spreading," the government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said at a regular press briefing.

New coronavirus infections in Japan reached 2,848 cases on Thursday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began.

Media reports said that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration was mulling a pause in the "Go To Travel" campaign for around two months at year-end and into the New Year as public opinion has shifted to supporting a halt.

Mr Suga's government has so far defended the subsidies as necessary to keep hotels and airlines in business and boost an economy hurt by a pandemic that has kept people at home.

His administration, which this week announced a fresh US$708 billion (S$940 billion) economic stimulus package, said on Friday it will also use 385.6 billion yen (S$4.9 billion) of emergency budget reserves to fund a shortfall in the travel campaign, which is set to run until the end of June.

A report this week from researchers at the University of Tokyo and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found a higher incidence of Covid-19 symptoms among people participating in the travel campaign compared with the general public.

Experts say colder, dryer winter weather that keeps people inside and helps transmission could mean more infections, while traditional year-end and New Year celebrations with family and friends puts people at greater risk of exposure.

"It's important that citizens cooperate a little by spending a quiet year-end and New Year." Mr Kato said.

Japan won't begin mass inoculations against the virus until next year at the earliest. It has ordered 290 million vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna and plans to buy 10,500 deep freezers to store them in.

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