Japan braces for fresh Covid-19 record amid fears of winter wave

Japan is bracing for a new daily record of coronavirus infections Thursday amid the latest flareup, as authorities began hinting they may take stronger measures to arrest the increase.

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Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister overseeing the country’s coronavirus response, said more stringent steps may be needed amid a clearer rising trend in cases, Jiji reported, the strongest indication yet from the national government that tougher action may be needed in a country that has largely escaped the worst of the pandemic.

While numbers are low in absolute terms, a spike in northern Japan, which is seeing colder temperatures compared to the rest of the country, is leading to concern that cases could spread as winter sets in nationwide.

The northern island of Hokkaido is already set to hit a daily record of around 230 cases, according to broadcaster FNN. The local government has already asked bars and other establishments to close early in the regional capital’s nightlife district.

On Wednesday, Japan reported at least 1,546 new cases, nearing the high in August. Shares of Japanese stay-at-home stocks rose in Tokyo, with videogame and e-commerce stocks gaining while railways declined.

‘Large Increase’

Parts of the country where the weather remains relatively mild are already seeing upticks. The capital of Tokyo reported the largest figure in nearly three months on Wednesday, while Osaka reached a fresh high.

“This could be the beginning of a sharp increase in infections,” said Norio Ohmagari, an infectious disease specialist advising Tokyo authorities, at a local government meeting. “We need to be on alert.”

Japan has drawn attention from other nations for its ability to control the spread of the virus without mass-testing or enforced lockdowns. Despite two previous flareups, deaths and serious cases remain low, and hospitals haven’t been pushed to capacity. Life had been returning to normal, with sporting matches resuming, workers returning to offices and a successful campaign encouraging domestic travel.

But in recent weeks, officials have expressed concern over the increasing variance of infection clusters, with cases rising in nursing homes, hospitals and schools. Experts have pointed to an increased spread among younger adults tired of social distancing, as well as within foreign communities, which may struggle due to language barriers and more limited access to health services.

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