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Japan’s COVID-19 cases hit record high for fourth day

Japan mulls imposing limits on large gatherings a day after dialling back key domestic travel campaign.

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The daily tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan has hit a record for the fourth day and a senior official says Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government may reimpose limits on sports and other large events to curb the surge.

Japan’s daily coronavirus infections hit a record high for the fourth day in a row, with 2,508 cases recorded on Saturday, according to the Japanese Health Ministry.

The spike brings the nationwide caseload to 130,891. The country also saw 11 virus-related fatalities on Saturday, bringing the total death toll to 1,987.

Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga said Friday the government’s travel and dining promotion program will be halted in coronavirus hotspots to curb further infections.

“In the areas where the infection increase reaches a certain level, we will take stronger prevention measures in coordination with prefectural governors,” Suga said. The areas and date of the temporary cancellation are to be determined next week.

On Saturday, Japan’s capital Tokyo recorded its highest number of daily infections with 539 cases. Osaka, the country’s second largest city, also reported a record high of 415 new cases.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economy minister, told public broadcaster NHK on Sunday that the government was mulling reimposing attendance limits on large gatherings in areas of the country seeing a sharp increase in cases.

He said the government was also considering how to refund customers who booked trips via a domestic tourism campaign that was partially suspended on Saturday.

The halting of the GoTo programme – which encouraged travel and dining out with discounts – marked a change in direction for Suga, who has been attempting a balancing act of revitalising Japan’s hard-hit economy while keeping the coronavirus under control.

Critics say the move was too little, too late as it came after many people had already made travel reservations for a three-day Thanksgiving weekend in Japan.

Airports and restaurants have been packed, and some say the government should have offered to pay for cancellations, or stepped up PCR testing instead, if the goal is to keep the economy going amid a pandemic.

Tutorials are circulating online on the proper way to eat and drink at restaurants while wearing masks.

Meanwhile, NHK on Sunday said Japan’s “hospitals are under strain”, with bed occupancy rates topping 30 percent in seven of the country’s 47 prefectures, including Hyogo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Aichi and Tokyo.

In the past week alone, the number of hospitalised patients rose by 32 percent, NHK said.

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