Kishida announces plan to apply priority measures to Okinawa, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi prefectures

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Few people are seen on the Naha Kokusai Shopping Street in Okinawa Prefecture on Thursday.-

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday the government plans to apply emergency-level COVID-19 measures for Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures amid a surge of coronavirus cases in those areas.

The so-called priority measures will allow the prefectures to take steps almost as strict as ones under a state of emergency.

The three prefectural governments think U.S. military personnel may be responsible for the increase in infections. U.S. bases are located in Okinawa Prefecture and the city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which neighbors Hiroshima Prefecture.

New cases of the novel coronavirus exceeded 4,000 across the nation on Thursday for the first time since Sept. 18, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun tally.

The Okinawa prefectural government is considering taking such steps as asking dining establishments to close by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. and calling for people to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders.

Okinawa wants the priority measures to be in place from Sunday to Jan. 31.

Coronavirus cases have soared in the prefecture since the beginning of the month. Okinawa said it logged 981 cases, a record, on Thursday.

Okinawa has been on alert since cases began to surge at U.S. military bases in the prefecture, and local government officials, in consultation with experts, decided Thursday that priority measures should be implemented.

In Iwakuni, where the U.S. Iwakuni Air Station is located, infections among people linked to the base have surged since late last year. The city reported 70 new cases on Wednesday.

The Yamaguchi prefectural government wants priority measures to be implemented for Iwakuni and its neighboring areas.

The Hiroshima prefectural government held a meeting of its COVID-19 task force Thursday afternoon and decided to ask the central government to implement priority measures. The prefecture confirmed 138 new cases on Wednesday, and the city of Hiroshima alone logged 151 cases on Thursday.

As the western part of the prefecture shares a border with Iwakuni, the local government believes the coronavirus outbreak at the U.S. base in the city is the cause of the increase in cases in Hiroshima Prefecture.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, “If prefectural governments make official requests, we will consider the matter promptly.”

The central government plans to hold a government task force meeting on Friday to discuss whether to apply priority measures.

The last round of emergency measures had been lifted nationwide by Sept. 30 last year. If the central government implements priority measures for the prefectures, it will be the first time in about three months that emergency-level measures have been applied.

Last November, the central government set new criteria regarding state-of-emergency declarations and the application of priority measures.

Previously, the government adopted a four-level alert scale based on the number of new cases and other factors, but the new criteria, which put more focus on the strain on medical services, is a five-step scale from Level 0 to Level 4, the most severe level.

Under the new criteria, a state of emergency can be declared at Level 3, while priority measures can be applied at Level 3 or Level 2.

Okinawa Prefecture is currently at Level 2, and Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures are at Level 1.