Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga calls for strict quarantine measures at airports and for those returning from the UK.
Japan has confirmed its first five cases of the new, faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus among passengers arriving from the UK as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urges the country to have a ‘quiet new year’ period.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura announced the cases late Friday after meeting Suga, adding that the Prime Minister had called for strict quarantine measures at airports and for those returning from the UK.
Japan has banned entry from the UK except for returning Japanese nationals and those with a residence permit.
The New Year period is an extended national holiday in Japan, with many people typically returning to their hometowns and spending time with family and friends.
Earlier on Friday, Suga called for a quiet New Year without the usual social gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is breaking infection records almost daily.
He also announced a $ 2.6 billion package for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients who have been strained due to the rapid increase in cases in the northern island of Hokkaido as well as in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
“I want you to have a quiet new year,” the prime minister said at a press conference in Tokyo, attended by the government’s leading coronavirus expert, Shigeru Omi.
“The infections are not decreasing and if we continue to do so, we will not be able to prevent the virus from spreading again.”
Omi warned that it was essential that “all citizens move in the same direction” to contain the health crisis.
“If we don’t reduce infections now, once they reappear after the New Years period, it won’t be easy to change the downward trend,” he said.
“It would take time and would probably be impossible to control over a period of several weeks,” he said.
Omi said shared meals were a major cause of infections and called on people to refrain from holding large gatherings and limit meals to four people with whom one ate regularly, or less.
As Japan has avoided the huge numbers of infections seen in other parts of the world, the number of daily new cases has surpassed 3,000 for the first time this month.
Tokyo reported 884 infections on Friday, near Thursday’s high of 888.
Japan, with a population of 126 million, has made deals to buy 290 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc – enough for 145 million people.
A panel from the Department of Health said people aged 65 or older should be given priority for COVID-19 vaccination, as well as frontline healthcare workers and people with health conditions under -jacent.
It specified, among others, chronic heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, and chronic kidney disease as underlying conditions that should determine priority.
The committee’s recommendations would mean that 36 million elderly people and 8.2 million people with health problems would be the first to receive injections.