• Kyodo, Jiji, staff report

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The Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed 534 new coronavirus cases on Thursday to hit another record high, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying Japan is on “maximum alert” and calling for people to do all they can to prevent infections.

Tokyo saw its daily case total top 500 for the first time and hit a record high for the second straight day. Thursday’s figure is based on 8,600 tests conducted.

A day after Japan reported more than 2,000 cases — the highest number yet — Suga told reporters he wants people to wear masks at restaurants as much as possible, taking them off only briefly to eat and drink, in an effort to reduce the infection risk.

Suga also said he has instructed Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s coronavirus response, and health minister Norihisa Tamura to take additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus based on discussions at a two-day expert panel meeting through Friday.

Given the recent resurgence in infections, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government raised its virus alert to the highest of four levels on Thursday, officials said.

The move was decided at Thursday’s meeting to monitor the COVID-19 situation between metropolitan government officials and experts.

“The infection situation in Tokyo has entered a phase of rapid expansion,” one expert said.

Hokkaido is also expected to confirm over 240 new cases on Thursday, another record high, surpassing the previous record of 236 reported on Nov. 12, prefectural officials said.

On Wednesday, Japan logged a daily record of 2,203 cases, with Tokyo also reporting a fresh record high of 493 cases.

“I feel a very strong sense of crisis,” Nishimura said at a news conference after a government review meeting on the pandemic Wednesday.

He stressed the need to strengthen coronavirus measures at dining establishments, which have been hot spots for the virus.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, asked the public to refrain from unnecessary travel, especially to and from regions experiencing a resurgence.

“Please do not get complacent about the coronavirus,” he said Wednesday at a separate news conference. “We can prevent it from spreading across the country through the combination of each of our actions.”

Nakagawa said that although there was no concrete evidence to indicate that the government’s Go To Travel subsidy campaign was responsible for the spike in cases, “there is no mistaking that it acted as a catalyst.”

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