Japan tells people to wear masks at home to fight record infection rates over holiday period
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has urged all vulnerable to wear a mask at home during New Year celebrations - Yuki Sato / Kyodo News
The Japanese were asked to wear masks at home during the holidays in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures.
The extra precaution has been recommended to the elderly and their family members as cases increase across the country.
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"The fate of the coming year will depend on how you spend the end of the year and New Year holidays," said Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, in a joint letter with other regional leaders.
She added that, given the ongoing health crisis, the holidays cannot be an excuse for people to lose their vigilance. Instead of attending parties or returning to their hometowns for a traditional New Year celebration, Ms. Koike urged people to stay indoors and take as many precautions as possible.
For the first time since the pandemic broke out, Tokyo raised its health alarm to the highest of its four levels on Thursday, despite popular shopping areas appearing to be full again over the weekend.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has refused to reinstate a national state of emergency, citing corporate concern - pool / pool
On Monday, the Japan Medical Association and eight affiliated medical organizations declared a "state of medical emergency" and called on the national government to impose stricter travel restrictions as well as shops and restaurants.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has refused to reinstate a national state of emergency as it would harm the country's businesses.
"We have to see the results of our previous countermeasures against coronavirus," Suga said in a television interview on Monday. "I will lead the effort and do whatever has to be done".
Despite these promises, Mr. Suga's public support rate continues to decline and many Japanese criticize the government's handling of the crisis.
The governors' appeal coincides with a sharp spike in infections and deaths, and health officials are warning the country's medical facilities could collapse under the strain.
The Tokyo city government reported 563 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, 171 more than the previous day.
Nationwide there were 2,647 new cases and 620 people in severe condition. The national death toll from the disease passed 3,000 on the same day, with more than 800 deaths in December alone, up from 382 in November.
Tokyo and the prefectures of Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka and Hyogo account for more than 80 percent of all deaths.
The total number of infections across Japan topped 200,000 as of Monday, with the number of cases in the elderly, who are of particular concern to health officials, increasing sharply.
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