• Kyodo, staff report


The Hokkaido government on Tuesday officially raised its alert level in Sapporo, asking the city's residents to avoid nonessential outings and refrain from visiting other areas in the prefecture amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The move came a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the central government would financially support shops and restaurants that are asked to shorten their business hours in order to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

The restriction in Sapporo, which asks residents to refrain from nonessential outings following back-to-back days of record infections in the region, will apply until Nov. 27, prefectural officials said.

In addition to Hokkaido, a popular tourist spot known for its cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls, Hyogo Prefecture and Aichi Prefecture are also looking to raise their coronavirus alerts, while Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities continue to see high infection numbers.

Hyogo Prefecture on Tuesday reported 107 new cases, surpassing the 100 mark for the first time.

In Tokyo, 298 new cases were confirmed Tuesday, after the capital reported 180 cases a day earlier, the third-highest figure for a Monday when the number of new cases tends to be low.

Speaking at a meeting of the government's coronavirus task force on Monday, the prime minister said ¥50 billion would be set aside for local authorities to hand out should they deem it necessary to cut business hours short.

Such calls would be made after discussions between local authorities and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of economic revitalization, and be limited to specific areas and industries, Suga said.

The prime minister also said he would ask governors to consider making groups of more than five people or so ineligible for the government's Go To Eat program, which is aimed at encouraging dining out at restaurants.

Hokkaido has recently been experiencing a rapid rise in daily infections, with more than 200 cases reported on four consecutive days through Sunday. It reported a record 236 cases Thursday.

Sapporo raised its alert for the pandemic to the fourth level, the second highest of the five on the island's coronavirus scale, which indicates a rapid surge in infections and a need to implement measures to avert a great burden being put on medical facilities.

Raising the level will enable authorities to request limits be placed on operational capacities of facilities that have failed to implement measures against the pandemic.

The island initially requested eateries and entertainment businesses in Sapporo's Susukino nightlife district to refrain from operating between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., while pledging ¥200,000 per business that follows the request.

But local authorities now plan to expand the request to the entire city and call on eateries without proper virus prevention measures to refrain from opening.

Meanwhile, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said Monday his prefecture is considering raising its coronavirus alert after it saw over 100 daily infections for six straight days through Sunday.

"We don't expect a downward trend" for the time being, he said at a news conference.

Despite a spike in cases, Suga has said the government will maintain its Go To Travel subsidy campaign to support domestic tourism.

Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba also said Tuesday the government will not exclude Sapporo or Hokkaido as a whole from the Go To Travel program.

"We will carry out the program by cooperating closely with Hokkaido while urging thorough preventive measures," Akaba told a news conference.

On Monday, the total daily number of cases reported nationwide dipped below 1,000, coming in at 950. The figure brought the cumulative number of infections, including cruise ship passengers and crew members, to over 120,000.

The latest figures come as over 80% of respondents to a Kyodo News survey released Sunday expressed concern about the number of new coronavirus cases reaching a record high in Japan in recent days.

The nationwide telephone survey, conducted over the weekend, found that 68.4% said the government’s response to the pandemic should be its top priority rather than economic stimulus.

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