Governors fear shortage of accommodation facilities amid surge in omicron close contacts

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The governors of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama prefectures discuss measures against the omicron variant at an online conference on Thursday.

Local governments are scrambling to secure accommodation facilities for people who have had close contact with patients infected with the omicron coronavirus variant amid a spate of new cases.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 7,819 omicron close contacts had been identified as of Thursday, a jump of about 3,500 from the previous day.

Under the central government’s policy, omicron close contacts are being urged to isolate at local government-designated facilities. However, on Wednesday Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said, “It’s practically impossible to accept all of them at our facilities.”

People who traveled on the same flight as an omicron patient are considered to be close contacts due to the variant’s higher transmissibility, which has caused a surge in the number of close contacts.

Previously, only people seated within two rows of the patient were recognized as close contacts.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, the number of omicron close contacts exceeded 1,000 for the first time on Wednesday.

The prefectural government is only accommodating close contacts who are unable to self-isolate at home.

“We only have a limited number of facilities,” Kuroiwa said.

Local governments have to secure accommodation for omicron close contacts and mild coronavirus patients who are infected with variants other than omicron.

As of Thursday, the Tokyo metropolitan government had secured 4,040 rooms at 18 facilities, which it also uses for patients infected with the delta variant.

Tokyo had identified 1,490 omicron close contacts as of Wednesday.

“There might not be enough rooms at accommodation facilities if infections spread rapidly,” a metropolitan government official said.

Chiba Gov. Toshihito Kumagai said at a press conference on Thursday, “I hope [the central government] will revise the criteria for close contacts based on epidemiological findings.”

Half of cases detected at airports

Thirty-three omicron cases were confirmed in airport tests on Thursday, according to the health ministry, with the overall tally rising to 200, including seven new cases in Osaka, Chiba and other prefectures.

As of Thursday, 439 coronavirus cases had been detected in airport tests since Nov. 27, of which 172, or 40%, had been confirmed as omicron cases. However, the number of people infected with the variant has skyrocketed since mid-December, accounting for over half of infections detected at airports.

Of the 23 coronavirus cases detected at airports on Monday, 19 were omicron cases, marking a daily record of 82.6% and representing a warning sign that the variant could replace the previously dominant delta variant.

“We will continue to take strict border control measures,” health minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters on Wednesday.