Tokyo may raise coronavirus alert as travel campaign comes under fire

By Chang-Ran Kim and Ju-min Park

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo is considering raising its alert for coronavirus infections to the highest of four levels, officials said on Wednesday, after a spike in cases to record numbers in the Japanese capital.

Fearing a second wave of infections spreading from the capital, local municipalities and opposition lawmakers also urged the central government to suspend a major campaign aimed at boosting domestic tourism.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, however, said on Wednesday the government would proceed with the so-called ‘Go To’ travel aid campaign, which includes offers such as discounts for shopping and food, but move cautiously.

“Obviously we will consider the thoughts of many of our people, while monitoring the situation ahead,” Nishimura, who leads the government’s coronavirus policy, told parliament.

The programme is one of the biggest outsourcing contracts in a stimulus budget announced in April, but has already been postponed due to public criticism over the cost of subcontracting back-office work to a private contractor.

The campaign, starting this month, has also come under fire on social media, with the coronavirus fuelling an unusual outburst of political anger on social media networks in Japan.

In Tokyo, daily coronavirus cases exceeded 200 in four of the last six days, touching an all-time high of 243 cases last Friday as testing among workers in the metropolis’s red-light districts turned up infections among young people in their 20s and 30s.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike confirmed that Tokyo would hold a “monitoring” meeting with experts on Wednesday, moving up the weekly gathering by a day, to discuss the recent rise in cases.

“My understanding is that we’re in a rather severe situation now,” she told reporters ahead of a planned media conference later on Wednesday.

A Tokyo government official separately told Reuters that the metropolitan government was considering raising its alert to the highest level.

Tokyo’s latest cluster has been traced to a theatre with at least 37 cases in Shinjuku, a busy entertainment area and home to one of Asia’s biggest red-light districts which has been the centre of a recent spike in infections.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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