Japan warns of COVID-19 surge, PM Kishida to hold news conference

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Japan warned on Thursday that a new wave of coronavirus infections appeared to be spreading rapidly and urged people to take special care ahead of an approaching long weekend and school summer vacations.

Tokyo’s 16,878 new cases on Wednesday were the highest since February, while the nationwide tally rose above 90,000, in a recent surge of COVID-19 infections to levels unseen since early this year.

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“We are seeing a rapid expansion,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference, adding that the national tally of new cases stood at 94,466 on Tuesday, as newly-infected patients rose more than two-fold over last week.

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Hospital bed usage is low, however, he said, as were the numbers of serious cases and deaths.

“There’s likely to be a further impact from the upcoming three-day weekend and summer vacation,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told a meeting of a panel to fight the virus, adding that new cases were rising in every prefecture.

Still, Japan is not yet considering any sort of curbs on movements and activity, Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa said.

The capital, Tokyo, raised its alert level to the highest tier, with experts saying infections were rising rapidly. The BA.5 variant accounts for more than half.

“Tomorrow, we will hold a meeting ... to decide on measures to be taken this summer,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told a meeting, adding that the gathering would weigh expert opinion and the nationwide trend.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to hold a news conference at 6:00 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Thursday.

At the event, news agency Kyodo said, Kishida was likely to discuss the spread of the disease and ways to tackle inflation stemming from the weak yen and higher fuel prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Land and transport minister Tetsuo Saito, who also handles tourism, said it was not the time to start a system of support and subsidies for domestic travel.

Japan launched a travel promotion program late in 2020 before abandoning it amid criticism that it had helped spread the coronavirus. A similar scheme had been widely expected to start sometime this year.

Among the infected were officials such as the publicity head of the ruling party, Taro Kono, and Karen Makishima, head of the digital agency.

Drugmakers Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE have sought health ministry approval for use of their COVID-19 vaccine in children aged six months to four years, the firms said on Thursday.

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