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Tokyo asks drinking places to close early to curb coronavirus rise

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                                People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus pause near a shopping building in Tokyo.


    People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus pause near a shopping building in Tokyo.

TOKYO >> Tokyo’s governor on Wednesday asked bars and other places where alcohol is served to close earlier for three weeks to help prevent a resurgence of coronavirus infections from turning explosive.

Gov. Yuriko Koike, after meeting with officials to discuss ways to combat the upsurge, said bars, karaoke outlets and restaurants serving alcohol in the city are being requested to close by 10 p.m. beginning Saturday until Dec. 17.

“In order to prevent a further spread of infections and protect the lives of the residents of Tokyo, we are taking brief and intensive measures,” Koike said, asking for the business owners’ cooperation.

Tokyo will provide 400,000 yen ($3,800) in compensation to those who fully cooperate with the effort, she said.

The measures are Tokyo’s first since it made a similar request at the end of August to eateries, karaoke bars and other drinking places in central and downtown Tokyo during an earlier wave of infections.

Koike also urged residents to avoid non-essential outings and return to remote working as much as possible, and be mindful of safety measures if they still choose to eat out during the upcoming holiday season. Parties should be limited to small groups and be brief, with participants not sharing food, talking quietly, and using masks while talking, she said.

Tokyo will also suspend a local tourism promotion and a government discount dining campaign until mid-December.

The measures come as cases have spiked in Tokyo and other major cities, including in Osaka and Hokkaido, which are taking similar steps.

Tokyo reported a record 537 new daily cases, and daily national cases exceeded 2,500 last week for the first time since the pandemic began.

Koike, however, insisted on Tuesday that she is determined to host next summer’s Olympics, which were postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 401 new cases for a total of 38,598. Serious cases are on the rise, triggering fears among medical experts of a collapse of the medical system.

Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said hospital beds have been quickly filled with seriously ill patients, requiring more medical workers and more time and causing the treatment of ordinary patients to be scaled down.

“We need to act urgently or we will face a nationwide crisis,” he said, urging the authorities to curtail business activity. “As medical professionals, we believe the utmost disease prevention is also the best economic measure.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Sunday announced a decision to partially suspend the government’s GoTo campaign that encourages travel, shopping and eating out with discounts to support pandemic-hit businesses.

Nationwide, Japan has had 135,400 cases including 2,001 deaths as of Wednesday, the health ministry said.

During a seven-week state of emergency in April and May, Japan had non-binding stay-at-home and business closure requests but still did better than many other countries in limiting the coronavirus’s spread.

Experts have cited widespread use of surgical masks as a key factor in keeping the country’s cases low. They also say bowing instead of hugging or kissing, the removal of shoes at home, and an affordable healthcare system and infection tracing by local health officials may also have helped.

But many cases during the current surge are asymptomatic or untraceable, while colder temperatures and dry weather have made it easier for airborne virus particles to spread.

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