TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's government is discussing whether to impose a quasi-state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and surrounding areas this week to contain a surge in Covid-19 infections, broadcaster FNN said on Monday (Jan 17).
The highly infectious Omicron variant is driving a resurgence in coronavirus cases, which are hovering near record levels, after new infections exceeded 25,000 nationwide in the past two days.
Last week, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the capital would request measures such as a quasi-emergency if the use of beds allocated for Covid-19 patients climbed to 20 per cent. On Sunday, the figure was 19.3 per cent.
The measures being considered by the government will cover nine prefectures, in addition to Tokyo, FNN reported.
The move would follow curbs this month in three regions hosting United States military facilities, after it appeared that base outbreaks of Omicron spilled into surrounding communities. The measures include shorter opening hours for restaurants and bars.
However, the effectiveness of emergency declarations in changing people's behaviour has waned after Japan repeatedly deployed the measure throughout the pandemic, said public health expert Kenji Shibuya.
"Omicron is a very important test case for any community," said Mr Shibuya, who coordinates vaccine efforts in northern Japan, adding that the authorities had to figure out how best to manage the disease while keeping up socio-economic activity.
The essential goal now is to accelerate booster shots, testing and handing out oral treatments to keep Omicron infections from overwhelming hospitals, he added.
Differing degrees of emergency measures adopted in various parts of Japan last year were lifted at the end of September.
A full declaration of emergency would be sought when occupancy of hospital beds in Tokyo reached half, Ms Koike said last week.
The capital has allocated about 6,900 beds for coronavirus care, of a total of about 128,000 in the region.