Japan’s approach of busting coronavirus infection clusters to contain outbreaks is nearing its limit, according to experts, amid a worrying surge in cases nationwide.

“The current epidemic cannot be put under control through cluster-busting,” a health ministry advisory panel member said. “It is necessary to take powerful steps to prevent infection.”

Cluster-busting led by public health centers nationwide features prominently in Japan’s approach to combating the novel coronavirus and involves aggressive backward contact tracing in an attempt to identify the original sources of outbreaks.

The method, called the “Japan Model,” is said to have been effective in curbing the spread of the virus in the country so far.

But the current situation, described as a third wave of infections by many experts, differs from the previous two waves in that the variety of clusters has become substantially wider.

During the second wave in the summer, most clusters occurred in nighttime entertainment districts. Now, clusters have been detected in a variety of places, including medical institutions, workplaces and foreign communities.

As concerns grow over manpower shortages at public health centers, the health ministry has decided that elderly care facilities will be given priority in cluster-busting.

But despite this move, designed partly to reduce the workload of public health centers, the approach is close to its limits, some experts say, given coronavirus cases have surged by more than 2,000 cases nationwide for five straight days as of Sunday.

“Cluster-busting is effective in containing local outbreaks in areas where infections have not spread widely,” an advisory panel member said.

“But it is difficult to put outbreaks under control in areas where infection routes are unknown in half of new cases,” the member continued.

“The government should take action to prevent infections from happening,” the member added, calling for tougher steps, including restrictions on long-distance travel across prefectural borders.

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