• Staff report, AP, Reuters, KYODO


Osaka Prefecture reported a record-busting 490 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while Tokyo dipped below 500 for the first time in four days amid growing concerns over a nationwide surge in the number of infections.

The 490 cases in Osaka were more than the previous daily record — 415 — set just a day earlier. The latest record came as Tokyo reported 391 new cases just a day after it, too, set a daily high with 539 infections.

Of Sunday’s total in the capital, people in their 20s made up the largest group of new infections, at 129, followed by those in their 30s, at 72, and those in their 50s, at 52. Those age 65 or older came to 40.

The figure for Sunday was based on 7,409 tests. The capital’s cumulative tally of cases stood at 37,708. The number of seriously ill patients remained at 40.

But there were signs that the uptrend will likely continue for some time, as the capital’s rolling average for the number of new daily infections in the week through Sunday reached an all-time high of 422.4.

On Sunday, Japan reported 2,167 new daily cases of infection — the fifth-straight day over 2,000 — a day after marking a record high for the fourth day in a row, bringing its cumulative total to 133,730 cases. The death toll now stands at 2,001.

Still, the country has had fewer than 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths so far, avoiding the toll of harder hit nations.

The government has been the target of a flurry of criticism from opposition lawmakers and the public for being too slow in halting its Go To tourism campaign, which encouraged travel and dining out with discounts.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday ordered a review of the campaign, suspending new reservations of trips to areas where infections are soaring — but only after many people had already made travel reservations for a three-day weekend in Japan.

Airports and restaurants have been packed. Some say the government should have offered to pay for cancellations, or stepped up testing instead, if the goal is to keep the economy going amid the pandemic.

Appearing Sunday on public broadcaster NHK, Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi, who heads the National Governors’ Association, said the Go To subsidies could be suspended in areas with a high concentration of infections on a citywide rather than prefectural basis, removing “Sapporo in the case of Hokkaido, or Nagoya in the case of Aichi Prefecture.”

Iizumi said businesses could be asked again to temporarily halt operations depending on the infection situation, pointing out that there is a shortfall of over ¥600 billion ($5.78 billion) in the special grants provided by the central government to local governments to financially support those that do so.

The governor said a third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 with an additional ¥1.2 trillion will be necessary to cover the shortfall and roll out support measures for businesses likely to be affected by the suspension.

Separately on Sunday, economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government is considering how to refund cancellation fees for customers who had booked trips.

Nishimura, speaking on an NHK program, said Japan may reimpose attendance limits for sports and other large events to curb the spike in infections.

The limits would be applied in areas of the country seeing a sharp increase in cases, Nishimura said. The government imposed attendance limits earlier in the year but relaxed them in recent months.

Medical experts and opposition party lawmakers have criticized Suga’s government for putting priority on reviving the economy rather than preventing the further spread of the virus.

“It’s too late,” Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said during a news conference in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture.

“We will be able to get the economy moving only after preventing infections,” Edano said, in reference to Suga’s policy of striking a balance between revitalizing the economy and curbing the spread of the virus. “I’d like to urge him to clearly change direction.”

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