Beginning Friday, restaurants and bars in Tokyo and a dozen other cities throughout Japan will close early as the country expands COVID-19 restrictions in response to the omicron variant, which has led cases to spike to new highs in urban areas.
The constraint, which is akin to a state of emergency, is the first since September and will remain until February 13th. Since early January, three more prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi — have been under similar restrictions, bringing the total number of locations under control to 16, or one-third of the country.
While many Japanese people are completely vaccinated against COVID-19, only a small percentage have received a booster dose, which provides crucial protection against the extremely dangerous omicron coronavirus type.
Pfizer immunizations were approved by the Ministry of Health on Friday for youngsters aged 5 to 11, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable to illness.
As the government attempts to minimize economic damage, Japan has rejected the use of lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, instead focusing on mandating eateries to close early and not serve alcohol, as well as advising the population to wear masks and exercise social distance.
Most restaurants are now required to close by 8 or 9 p.m., while major events with anti-virus protocols can accommodate maximum capacity. Certified eateries that do not serve alcohol in Tokyo can stay open until 9 p.m., however those that do must close an hour sooner.
Restaurants that shut at 9 p.m. and do not sell alcohol are paid 30,000 yen ($263) a day by the government, while those that close at 8 p.m. are paid 25,000 yen ($220).
Critics argue that the regulations, which mostly target pubs and restaurants, are ineffective and discriminatory.
Despite getting less compensation from the government, Mitsuru Saga, the manager of a Japanese-style “izakaya” restaurant in central Tokyo, said he decided to serve alcohol and close at 8 p.m.
In an interview with Nippon Television, Saga stated, “We cannot earn money without offering alcohol.” “It appears that only eateries are subject to limitations.”
Some experts dispute the effectiveness of restricting access to eateries solely, pointing out that illnesses in the three prefectures that have previously been exposed to the regulations for over two weeks show no indications of diminishing.
After more than two years of recurrent constraints and calls for social separation, the Japanese are growing increasingly resistant to such measures. People are returning to crowded trains and crowded malls for commuting and shopping.
Shinagawa, Tokyo’s largest rail station, was jam-packed with commuters heading to work on Friday morning.
When the omicron strain spread to other nations, Japan temporarily relaxed border controls in November, only to immediately restore them and bar most foreign arrivals. Japan has stated that it will maintain its strict border policy through the end of February in order to strengthen medical systems and treatment.
Foreign students and researchers have criticized the strict border procedures, claiming that they are not scientific.
A group of professors and Japan-US specialists, led by Japan Society President Joshua Walker, recently issued a petition urging Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his government to allow foreign scholars and students back into the nation under strict security measures.
Hundreds of academics and specialists in Japan-US studies signed a letter to Kishida urging his government to remove border controls to allow educators, students, and researchers to enter Japan and continue their academic work. Many of them have been compelled to abandon their studies of Japan in favor of other nations, such as South Korea.
“They serve as links between Japan and other cultures.” They are the next generation of lawmakers, business executives, and educators. They are the bedrock of the US-Japan alliance as well as other foreign ties that serve Japan’s fundamental national interests, according to the letter. “Japan’s national interests and international connections are being harmed by the shutdown.”
Although Japan just declared that 87 students on Japanese government scholarships will be allowed to enter the country, petitioners claim that many more students on foreign government-sponsored scholarships will be denied entry.
On Thursday, Tokyo recorded 8,638 new cases of coronavirus infection, breaking the previous high of 7,377 established the day before.
Experts raised the alarm about the fast-paced increase headed by omicron at a Tokyo metropolitan government task force meeting.
If the present rate of rise continues, Tokyo’s daily new cases might reach 18,000 in a week, according to Norio Ohmagari, Director of the National Center for Global Health’s Disease Control and Prevention Center and an advisor to the Tokyo metropolitan government panel.
Despite the fact that only a fraction of the soaring number of infected people are hospitalized, occupying less than one-third of available hospital beds in Tokyo, experts warn that the rapid increase in cases could quickly overwhelm medical systems if the infections spread among the elderly, who are more likely to become seriously ill.
In certain locations, raging illnesses have paralyzed hospitals, schools, and other sectors.
The required self-isolation period for those who come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days for those who come into close contact with someone who tests negative for COVID-19, and from seven days to seven days for essential workers who test negative.
While over 80% of Japanese people have gotten their first two vaccination doses, the deployment of booster injections has been sluggish, with just 1.4 percent of the population having received them so far.