Japan set to double areas under COVID curbs as cases set records By Reuters

© Reuters. Visitors wearing protective face masks walk on a pedestrian deck, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is doubling the number of regions under enhanced coronavirus curbs as it also seeks to adapt its strategy for dealing with record numbers of cases



© Reuters. Visitors wearing protective face masks walk on a pedestrian deck, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is doubling the number of regions under enhanced coronavirus curbs as it also seeks to adapt its strategy for dealing with record numbers of cases being caused by the Omicron variant to ensure prompt treatment for those who need it.

Nationwide cases rose above 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, a tally by broadcaster Fuji TV showed on Tuesday with the capital, Tokyo, posting 12,813 new cases while the region of Osaka reported 8,612, both records.

A health panel approved an expansion of tougher counter-measures in 18 more regions, among them the western prefectures of Kyoto as well as Osaka, in response to an increase of infections and hospital admissions driven by Omicron.

The curbs will run from Thursday until Feb. 20, empowering regional governors to ask restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and to stop serving alcohol.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to set out the plan in an announcement later on Tuesday.

The measures, already in force in 16 prefectures, will cover more than 70% of the country until the middle of next month.

The panel also approved an extension until Feb. 20 of so-called quasi-emergency measures in three regions where they are already in force.

The stricter measures come as the government is shifting its approach to handling the soaring number of cases.

The health ministry announced late on Monday it will allow doctors to diagnose those who have had close contact with a COVID-19 patient and who show symptoms as being infected without the need for a test, if deemed necessary by local governments.

The new policy will enable patients to get prompt treatment, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

“We’re presenting a policy to expand the options available to patients,” he said.

Managing COVID-19 without a laboratory test confirmation is similar to how doctors fight influenza in areas where “the community burden is high”, said Kazuaki Jindai, a physician and researcher at Tohoku University.

“The important thing is that some people will get sick eventually and we need to have a good monitoring system to make sure that they are safe. Not only by providing them hospitalization but also access to new oral medications.”

Kyle Tattle, president of the Japanese arm of U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co INC., told reporters the company was working to provide its COVID-19 oral pill, molnupiravir, as soon as possible.

The government would also weigh scientific data in considering shorter quarantines for people who have had close contact with COVID-19 patients, Kishida told a parliamentary debate.

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