Tokyo will ask people aged 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions to refrain from making trips to or from the capital using the government's domestic travel subsidy campaign, amid a recent resurgence of coronavirus cases, Gov. Yuriko Koike said Tuesday.
Following talks with the governor, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also said they agreed on the need for such a request and to "closely cooperate to prevent the spread of infections at all costs."
As Tokyo and many other parts of Japan have seen a spike in the number of infections since November, Koike said those people will be asked to refrain from traveling until Dec. 17.
She asked for their understanding as the new measure can contribute to reducing the number of people with severe symptoms of the COVID-19 respiratory illness.
Suga and Koike had been at odds over who would take the initiative in pulling Tokyo out of the subsidy program, which the cities of Osaka and Sapporo were excluded from last week.
Since taking office in mid-September, Suga has sought to strike a balance between preventing the spread of the virus and revitalizing the battered economy. He has been seen as being reluctant to exclude Tokyo from the campaign because it may deal a large blow on the economy.
Koike revealed that her proposals to Suga had actually excluded such people from the "Go To Travel" program, rather than "requesting" them not to use it.
The government has decided to allow their travel reservations to be cancelled with no fee and will announce the specifics of the request possibly Wednesday.
However, some medical experts said the request is not enough to prevent the spread of the virus, because older people and those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, are usually the ones who are extra cautious.
The travel campaign, which was launched in July, effectively shoulders about half of domestic travel expenses to help the tourism industry weather the impact of the pandemic.
The agreement between Suga and Koike came as Japan's cumulative total of confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 150,000. The death toll now stands at about 2,200.
On Tuesday, the number of new infections rose by 2,029 across the country, bringing the nationwide tally to around 151,639. A record 41 deaths have been reported.
Tokyo, the hardest-hit area among Japan's 47 prefectures, confirmed 372 new cases of the virus, up from 311 on Monday. It reported 9,857 infections in November, surpassing the previous monthly record set in August by around 1,700 cases.
On Nov. 19, the Tokyo metropolitan government raised its virus alert to the highest of four levels.
The Tokyo government on Saturday also started requesting that restaurants and other establishments serving alcohol shorten their business hours by closing at 10 p.m.
The number of people with serious symptoms of the virus in Japan hit a record 493 on Tuesday, logging a record figure for the ninth straight day, amid mounting fears over the strain on medical systems.
Health minister Norihisa Tamura called for local authorities to help strengthen regional medical systems by taking into consideration the "worst-case scenario."
Tamura said the central and local governments must draw up a plan to prevent the collapse of the medical system, expressing a "strong sense of urgency."
Speaking at a press conference, he said the central government has been calling for municipalities to secure hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, and is also working on a plan to send medical workers to regions that are struggling due to shortages of staff.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan's virus response, urged companies to promote teleworking to curb the spread of the virus, saying "now is the time to limit contact between people."
In a remote meeting with officials of the country's business bodies, Nishimura said companies should especially ask young employees to take preventive measures for the virus, since they may spread it without noticing.