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Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced Tuesday evening that residents in the capital age 65 and over as well as those with pre-existing conditions should refrain from participating in the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign.

The governor made the announcement shortly after a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“To stem more severe cases from emerging, those most at risk of developing severe symptoms should refrain from using the campaign for inbound and outbound travel,” Koike told reporters.

The request comes as the number of patients suffering severe symptoms from COVID-19 is on the rise, with fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed if the figure continues to spike. Tokyo reported 372 additional cases Tuesday, and the capital had 62 serious cases.

Municipal governors and top officials in the central government began rolling back economic measures meant to subsidize the country’s travel and food industries earlier this month amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 infections that began in late October.

Sapporo and Osaka were removed as eligible destinations for three weeks from the campaign last month, followed a week later by the announcement that subsidized travel from the two cities would also be suspended as well.

The capital was initially excluded from Go To Travel — a ¥1.35 trillion program intended to extend a lifeline to a suffering tourism industry — when it began in late July despite criticism that subsidizing travel during an ongoing pandemic would help the virus spread further throughout the country.

Experts say there’s no proof the travel campaign is the cause of the ongoing nationwide surge, but that it most likely exacerbated the situation. Suga said earlier this month 176 cases had resulted from some 40 million people using the discounts afforded by the campaign.

Commuters walk on a street in Tokyo in November. | AP
Commuters walk on a street in Tokyo in November. | AP

Tokyo joined the program in October after the outbreak appeared to hit a lull.

Last week, Koike announced the suspension of “Motto Tokyo” — a localized program meant to supplement the Go To Travel campaign — as well as Go To Eat, a parallel national program meant to subside businesses in the food industry.

Beginning Saturday, karaoke parlors and food establishments that serve alcohol were requested to close by 10 p.m. until mid-December in Tokyo’s central 23 wards, as well as the capitals of Hokkaido and Osaka prefectures.

Alcohol-serving restaurants in Nagoya’s nightlife districts were asked to close by 9 p.m. for three weeks beginning Sunday.

New reservations for transportation and lodging to and from areas ejected from the travel campaign will not be accepted for a three-week period, and previous reservations will be nulled and reimbursed by the central government.

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