Okinawa, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi under priority measures from Sunday

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of the government’s coronavirus measures, speaks at a COVID-19 subcommittee meeting of experts on Friday.

The government decided Friday to apply quasi-emergency priority measures to Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures, which have seen rapid increases in coronavirus infection cases in and around U.S. military bases.

The measures will be in effect from Sunday to Jan. 31.

It will be the first time for priority measures to be in place since the last state of emergency and priority measures ended just over three months ago, on Sept. 30.

The government in November revised the criteria used to assess infection situations when making decisions on state of emergency or priority measures, putting greater focus on the stress imposed on the medical care system.

In the revised five-tier framework, from Level 0 to Level 4, with 4 as the most serious, priority measures can be applied at Level 2 or Level 3. The government concluded that the three prefectures are currently at Level 2.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Prior to the government’s official decision, made at its coronavirus measures headquarters, a government subcommittee of experts on COVID-19 met Friday morning and approved of the policy to apply priority measures to the three prefectures.

At the subcommittee meeting, the government presented its basic policy to strengthen priority measures in response to the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Although the variant is seen as less likely to cause serious symptoms compared to the previously dominant delta variant, the omicron variant can spread more rapidly and cause a large increase in infections.

The strengthened priority measures will, for example, allow prefectural governors to request restaurants to stop serving alcohol even when the establishments have proper infection control measures in place.

The Okinawa prefectural government plans to put the entire prefecture under priority measures, requesting residents to refrain from nonurgent outings and travel across prefectural borders. Restaurants certified to have appropriate coronavirus measures will be allowed to serve alcohol until 8 p.m. and will be asked to close by 9 p.m. Uncertified restaurants will be requested to close by 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol at all.

Customers will be limited to four per group. The prefectural government will not use the so-called vaccine and testing package, which eases the limit on the number of people when they have vaccination certificates or negative test results.

“We have to stop infections from spreading any further,” Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a press conference.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, five municipalities in the western part of the prefecture — Hiroshima, Otake and Hatsukaichi cities and Kaita and Fuchu towns — are being eyed for priority measures. All restaurants will be asked to close by 8 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol.

The Yamaguchi prefectural government plans to apply priority measures to Iwakuni, where the U.S. forces’ Iwakuni Air Station is located, and the neighboring town of Waki. All eateries will be requested to close by 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol.

Restraint urged at U.S. bases

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken by phone on Thursday and requested that thorough measures, including restricting the outings of U.S. forces personnel, be implemented amid a surge of coronavirus cases at U.S. bases in Japan.

Blinken said that the request would be promptly conveyed to the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We will continue to do our utmost so that concerns of local residents will be eliminated as much as possible,” Hayashi said to reporters after the talks.