• Jiji, staff report

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Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba has left open the possibility of further reviewing the operation of the government's Go To Travel campaign, depending on the coronavirus situation in the country.

"For areas where novel coronavirus infection cases are increasing, we will consider a response based on opinions from prefectural governors and members of a central government panel of infectious disease experts," he said at a plenary meeting of the House of Councilors on Monday.

In late November, the government decided to temporarily halt the travel discount campaign's coverage of trips to Osaka and Sapporo due to recent spikes in newly confirmed infection cases in the cities.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also urged travelers from Osaka and Sapporo to refrain from using the travel campaign.

Attention is now being paid to the handling of trips to Tokyo, where the virus is also spreading fast, under the subsidy-backed program for shoring up travel demand. Tokyo was initially excluded from the Go To Travel campaign, which started in late July, because of a surge in coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital at the time. Tokyo was added to the campaign at the beginning of October.

Akaba also said that many local governments are calling for an extension of the campaign. "We will appropriately manage the program while continuing to take thorough measures to prevent the spread of the virus."

Meanwhile, the Chiba Prefectural Government said the same day that it will ask bars and restaurants in 11 cities to refrain from serving alcohol after 10 p.m. between Wednesday and Dec. 22.

These facilities will not be requested to shorten their business hours or given financial benefits from the prefectural government in return for suspending sales of alcoholic drinks. The 11 cities are Kashiwa, Funabashi, Ichikawa, Matsudo, Urayasu, Narashino, Yachiyo, Kamagaya, Noda, Nagareyama and Abiko, all of which are close to Tokyo.

At an extraordinary news conference, Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita called on affected stores and local residents to understand the measure, saying: "We are in a critical stage. We now need to curb infections in order to maintain the medical service system in the prefecture."

The prefectural government of Saitama decided on Monday to ask eating and drinking establishments serving alcohol and karaoke parlors in some areas to move up their closing times to 10 p.m. or earlier between Friday and Dec. 17.

The affected areas will be Omiya Ward in the city of Saitama and the cities of Kawaguchi and Koshigaya. Coronavirus infection clusters have previously occurred in entertainment districts in the three areas.

The Saitama Prefectural Government plans to offer financial aid to facilities that meet the request. The amount of the benefits will be decided later.

The moves follow similar steps taken by Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka and Nagoya where infections are surging. The cities have asked bars and restaurants to close early, with subsidies provided for those which comply.

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