Alarm in Japan as record Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise

South Korean expert fears country’s ‘third wave’ of coronavirus could be the worst yet

People make their way to departure lobbies at  Haneda airport in Tokyo on Saturday. Japan is scaling back on a government-backed campaign to encourage travel and dining out due to a rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases. Photograph: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Kyodo News via AP.

People make their way to departure lobbies at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Saturday. Japan is scaling back on a government-backed campaign to encourage travel and dining out due to a rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases. Photograph: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Kyodo News via AP.

 

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan reached a record high for the third straight day on Saturday, with 2,418 infections confirmed.

Japan, with fewer than 2,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, has been relatively successful at containing the damage from the pandemic with social distancing and the widespread use of masks.

But worries are growing about another surge over a three-day weekend. Monday is the Labour Thanksgiving holiday.

A government coronavirus panel is meeting later on Saturday and may decide to scale back the “GoTo” tourism campaign, which offers discounts for domestic travel and to those eating out.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga has been aggressive on keeping the economy going while balancing health risks.

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was packed on Saturday with vacationers. Spots popular for holiday travel, such as the northernmost main island of Hokkaido and urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka, have seen Covid-19 cases jump recently.

Meawnwhile, a senior official in South Korea has warned that a third wave of the disease could be the country’s largest yet if the spread is not quickly contained.

‘Critical juncture’

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday reported 386 new daily cases had been confirmed, bringing total infections to 30,403, with 503 deaths. New cases topped 300 for the fourth day in a row, after Tuesday saw the highest since August.

“We are at a critical juncture; if we fail to block the current spread, we could be facing a large nationwide infection that surpasses” the first two waves, senior KDCA official Lim Sook-young told a news briefing. The country was hit by a jump in cases in late February-early March and August.

The standard for imposing tougher social distancing measures was expected to be reached soon, Ms Lim said.

The daily national tally was expected to reach 400 new cases next week and more than 600 in early December if the current rate of one patient infecting 1.5 people was not curbed, she added.

Due to recent infections spreading among college and private after-school tuition academies, she especially urged young people to refrain from meeting and to get tested early.

Tightened guidelines

Sozuth Korea tightened prevention guidelines on Thursday ahead of highly competitive annual college entrance exams on December 3rd, and prime minister Chung Sye-kyun called on Friday for all social gatherings to be cancelled. However, bars, nightclubs, religious services and sports events continue but with attendance restrictions.

South Korea is negotiating to secure Covid-19 vaccines for 30 million people, or about 60 per cent of the population.

The Seoul metropolitan region recorded 262 new cases on Friday, up from 218 cases on Thursday.

Health officials have previously said the capital region, where about half of the country’s 52 million people live and work, could be subject to tougher restrictions if the average daily infection over a week rose to 200 or more. - Reuters