• Jiji, Kyodo

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Novel coronavirus infections are highly likely to surge at a rapid pace in Japan unless appropriate countermeasures are taken, a government panel of experts has warned in a set of emergency proposals, urging the government to strengthen its steps against the deadly virus.

The proposals, released late Monday, come at a time when infections are growing in many parts of the country, but especially in Hokkaido, where the daily number of newly confirmed cases reached 200 for the first time earlier that day.

The panel called for stronger measures to prevent the occurrence of infection clusters. Coronavirus tests and consultations should be expanded quickly at eating and drinking establishments with hospitality services, the panel said.

Detecting cluster infections is becoming difficult in foreign communities due to language barriers and at universities and other schools amid an increase in the number of asymptomatic carriers, the panel noted, underlining the need to strengthen the dissemination of related information and consultations.

The panel proposed the active use of video-sharing websites to help people fully understand settings with high infection risks and measures to help prevent the virus’s spread when dining. As the winter looms, the panel also urged the government to present concrete prevention measures, especially for colder areas of the country.

In line with the government’s ongoing moves to resume visits by foreign nationals to Japan, the panel also called for the disclosure of the number of visitors quarantined and of those testing positive for the virus.

“Coronavirus infections are certainly on the gradual rise across the nation,” Shigeru Omi, chair of the panel and head of the Japan Community Health Care Organization, said at a news conference after the panel met earlier Monday.

The panel said in the emergency proposals that strong measures to restrict economic and social activities — including requests for suspending business operations and for not visiting areas seeing surges in infections — need to be implemented if the epidemic is judged to have reached Stage 3, the second-worst level on its four-stage system to assess the seriousness of the spread of the virus.

Stage 3 indicates a rapid increase in infections. Tokyo is currently at Stage 2, and Hokkaido could be hiked to Stage 3 on Tuesday.

As winter approaches, the number of infections in the country has been running high, with Tokyo, home to around one-tenth of the country’s population, reporting 157 cases on Monday following 189 the previous day. The capital’s cumulative total reached 32,767 as of Monday.

In response to the recent surge of infections in Hokkaido, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato hinted at the possibility of excluding the popular tourist destination from the central government’s domestic Go To Travel campaign.

Health experts have said that the rising infections in Hokkaido and other northern areas could be the result of people spending time in poorly ventilated rooms as temperatures drop.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a meeting of senior officials from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Monday that the country needs to be on maximum alert in dealing with the situation, noting that the daily count of new infection cases nationwide topped 1,000 for three straight days through Saturday.

“In a bid to prevent an explosive spread of infections and protect people’s lives and health, we will conduct coronavirus tests on a large scale and intensively in certain areas and send experts there,” he said.

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