The struggle to contain the coronavirus ahead of the holiday season has prompted some local leaders to ask residents to embrace a more extreme precaution: wearing masks at home.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and her counterparts in three neighboring prefectures on Monday wrote a joint message urging older people and people with underlying health issues — and those living with them — to don masks at home during the New Year break. Some other prefectures, including Fukushima and Niigata, have made similar requests.
Japan is in the grips of a fresh wave of COVID-19 as winter sets in, with daily cases in Tokyo hovering at record levels. Authorities don’t have the power to enforce strict lockdowns and are having difficulty convincing people to stay in, prompting the advice on wearing masks at home to prevent them from infecting vulnerable family members.
Once lauded for its ability to control the coronavirus without imposing harsh social distancing measures, Japan is now slipping. The nation is ranked seventh on Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking for December, down from second a month ago.
There are signs that crowds are returning to major city districts. While there were 19% fewer people in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping area on Sunday afternoon compared with the average a year earlier, that’s up 3 percentage points from the previous week, the FNN television network reported, citing an estimate from mobile carrier NTT Docomo Inc.
Koike on Monday urged Tokyo residents to stay at home during the New Year, a time when families typically get together and visit shrines. Christmas illuminations lighting the city’s streets are being turned off early each night to discourage people from staying out.
Still, while Tokyo had a record 821 new daily cases last week, some other areas are starting to see the curve flatten or even decline. Hokkaido, which was first to face the latest wave, reported 110 infections on Monday, down from a peak of 304 on Nov. 20.
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