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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday that greater caution will be necessary to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus as companies prepare to take a break during the New Year’s holidays.

“Nearly a year has passed since the virus emerged, and it continues to spread throughout the country,” Suga said during a news conference Friday evening. “In order to avoid adding to the burden on hospitals and front-line workers, I ask for the cooperation of the people so that we can return even a day sooner to the life we had before the virus.”

Japan is struggling to contain a nationwide surge of COVID-19 that began in late October and has affected nearly every major population center.

The country reported a record-breaking 3,743 new cases on Thursday, bringing the nation’s cumulative total to 211,000 infections and 3,100 deaths. On Friday, Tokyo reported 884 new cases — the second-highest figure on record after the capital logged 888 the day before.

In major cities, officials say the sustained surge in new infections is already affecting local health care systems, overwhelming hospitals and disrupting their ability to treat patients with ailments unrelated to the virus at a time of the year when staffing is lower than usual.

Programs aimed at countering the economic impacts of the crisis have been temporarily halted, and residents have been asked to stay indoors and avoid holiday parties as the latest wave continues to gain momentum.

The Go To Travel campaign — a ¥1.35 trillion travel subsidy initiative meant to revive local tourism — will be suspended nationwide from Dec. 28 until Jan. 11 to discourage travel during the year-end break.

Karaoke parlors and establishments that serve food and alcohol in certain parts of major cities have been asked to reduce business hours and close early through the same period.

According to data released Friday by the tourism ministry, more than ¥406.3 billion was spent subsidizing at least 68.5 million overnight stays during trips made with discounts from the travel campaign.

The central government has yet to explain what will happen to the program after its nationwide suspension ends on Jan. 11.

Also Friday, the health ministry said that people age 65 or older will receive COVID-19 vaccinations after medical and other workers who come into frequent contact with infected people.

Third priority will be given to those with chronic respiratory diseases or underlying health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

The ministry proposed the vaccination policy at a meeting of a working group of the Health Sciences Council, which largely approved the plan.

The government has said vaccines will be available for medical workers as soon as late February.

Information from Jiji added

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