Experts: Peak has possibly passed in some prefs

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Quasi-emergency priority measures implemented in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Okinawa prefectures on Jan. 9 seem to have blunted the spike in novel coronavirus cases, with some experts predicting that the peak may have passed in some areas.

New cases in these prefectures have largely leveled off, apparently due to restrictions imposed under the measures.

Daily cases in Okinawa Prefecture surged from 51 on Jan. 2 to 1,759 on Jan. 8. The prefecture logged a record 1,829 new cases on Jan. 15, but signs of a downward trend are emerging. The prefecture has logged lower tallies than the figure confirmed on the same day a week earlier, over the last few days.

Hiroshima Prefecture logged a record 1,277 new cases on Jan. 16, but since then daily cases have hovered around 900 to 1,000. Case numbers also have plateaued in the city of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Dining establishments in the three prefectures are being asked to shorten their business hours and limit customer numbers.

Yamaguchi and Hiroshima have also asked restaurants and bars not to serve alcohol, while Okinawa is allowing establishments to do so if they have received official certification for their infection prevention measures.

However, an association comprising 1,000 restaurants in Okinawa Prefecture said about 70% of its members have decided to close for the time being.

“Some of the establishments that ignored previous requests to suspend their operations have closed their doors this time,” a prefectural government official told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “It seems there is a strong sense of urgency among business operators because of the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant.”

On Jan. 8, the infection routes of new cases that were linked to friends and acquaintances or dining establishments stood at 47.9% in the prefecture, but the figure had fallen to 9.8% by Wednesday. Recently, many new cases have been linked to family members.

“The restrictions have had a massive impact,” said University of the Ryukyus Prof. Jiro Fujita, who heads the Okinawa prefectural government’s expert panel. “I think this wave of infections has almost reached its peak.”

Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki believes the situation in his prefecture is also set to improve. “The number of cases could start declining soon,” Yuzaki said at a press conference Tuesday.

Fujita urged other local governments to learn from how these prefectures responded following the latest outbreaks.

“The omicron variant is like the seasonal flu in that it has a short incubation period, among other similarities. Infections can increase rapidly, but it’s possible that the time needed to bring the situation under control will also be shorter,” Fujita said. “Other local governments should understand that there will be a tough fight ahead, but it will be short term.”