Las Vegas Review-Journal

Japan expands virus alert as surge spreads

- By Mari Yamaguchi

TOKYO — Japan decided to raise the coronaviru­s alert level in the capital’s three neighborin­g prefecture­s and a fourth area in central Japan on Friday to allow tougher measures as a more contagious coronaviru­s variant spreads and adds to doubts about whether the Tokyo Olympics can go ahead.

The government approved the alert status for Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefecture­s in the capital region and Aichi in central Japan. The measure will allow heads of the prefecture­s to mandate shorter hours for bars and restaurant­s, along with punishment­s for violators and compensati­on for those who comply.

The measures are to begin Monday and continue through May 11 after the end of Japan’s “golden week” holidays.

“We must keep the infections from spreading further and causing a big nationwide resurgence,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said, asking the people to avoid traveling during the holidays.

The move comes only four days after Tokyo was placed on alert amid a surge in new infections. Many of the cases have been linked to nightlife and dining spots, but they have recently spread to offices, elderly care facilities and schools.

Experts have warned that the variant of the virus spreading now is more contagious and could also cause serious cases among younger people.

Japan added 4,576 cases on Thursday for a total of 520,745 since the pandemic began with 9,538 deaths, the Health Ministry said. Japan’s slow-moving vaccinatio­n campaign has covered less than 1 percent of the population since it started in mid-february.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has been criticized for being too slow in enacting anti-virus measures out of reluctance to further damage the economy.

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