Tokyo raised its coronavirus alert to the highest of four levels Thursday, as the Japanese capital — and the nation as a whole — is seeing record numbers of new cases.
The higher alert comes as Tokyo was set on Thursday to record more than 500 new cases for the first time, according to broadcaster TV Asahi. Confirmed infections in the city leaped by 493 on Wednesday, overtaking the record set in August, while nationwide cases hit a new high of more than 2,000.
Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures account for about a third of the nation’s gross domestic product, so any limitations on businesses in the capital introduced to control the infection will have an outsize effect on the economy.
Tokyo hadlowered the alert from its highest level in September, prompting the city to end voluntary restrictions on operating hours for bars and restaurants.
The spread comes amid debate over generous government subsidies for travel and eating out, meant to support businesses, which some have blamed for fueling the third wave of virus cases. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday that the central government had received no request from Tokyo to be removed from areas eligible for subsidies. He added there was no need to refrain from travel between prefectures across the board.
Despite the higher alert level, harsh lockdown measures aren’t expected, as the government lacks the legal means for such actions and is anxious to get the recessionary economy back on track. The country has gained attention for keeping the virus under control without mass-testing or heavy restrictions.
The rise in cases comes as the virus is surging globally with the onset of colder weather in the northern parts of the world. While Japan’s numbers are low compared with other countries, the increase is a reminder that, in the absence of an effective vaccine, even the most successful countries at containing the virus are vulnerable to resurgences.
Virus-Delayed Tokyo Olympics Looks to Allow Spectators
The higher alert level was implemented days after International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach told reporters in Tokyo he was confident that next year’s Olympics could safely be held with spectators present.
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