Japan’s Osaka prefecture is set to report a record-high of 6,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as the union government moves to impose tougher restrictions amid a rapid surge in the Omicron strain.
The daily tally of new infections in the country totaled 20,991 on Monday, marking 20,000-plus daily count for the fourth straight day, even though death toll has remained low, according to news reports.
The western prefecture of Osaka reported 2,549 new cases on Monday, marking a five-fold increase from last week. The capital Tokyo identified 3,719 new cases on the same day.
The occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in Tokyo rose to more than 20 percent on Monday, nearing the 50 percent threshold for a full state of emergency.
The rapid surge in new COVID-19 cases comes as the Omicron variant of coronavirus rages on furiously and ferociously across the country.
A report in Japan Times, quoting sources, said Tuesday that Japan will halt the implementation of its so-called vaccine-and-testing package, a government system that combines COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, in an attempt to resume normal economic activities.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Tuesday that ten prefectures, including Tokyo, have asked the central government for infection-fighting measures.
An official decision on the quasi-emergency measures is likely to be announced on Friday.
Japanese authorities have blamed the US military for failing to contain the COVID-19 outbreak at its military bases in Japan while allowing the Omicron variant to spill over to the local population.
While Japan has banned the entry of foreign travelers into the country since last November, the US military authorities in Japan have continued to move service members in and out of the country under a separate testing and quarantine regime.
The Japanese government has intensified its pandemic-related restrictions in three regions hosting the US military bases, which were forced to impose stricter measures to curb the spread of infection.
The prefectures of Okinawa, Yamaguchi, and Hiroshima – which host the US military bases – were placed under a quasi-state of emergency on Sunday.
It came after a joint statement by the Japanese government and the US forces that the movement of US military personnel outside their base facilities will be restricted for two weeks starting Monday.
The US military also agreed to impose mandatory mask-wearing mandate on all its personnel stationed in Japan, the statement added.
Pertinently, the presence of US soldiers in public places such as restaurants and bars without wearing masks had drawn the ire of local officials and people in recent months.
Last year, the US government exempted its military personnel from coronavirus testing before they took off for Japan, contending that they had been fully vaccinated.