More than 35 percent of people in Japan feel lonely and isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with young people in their 20s and 30s hit harder than the elderly as the result of limited social interaction, a government survey showed Friday.

The survey polled 20,000 people aged 16 and older nationwide in a random sample as of December, before the highly transmissible Omicron variant rapidly spread across the country in a sixth wave of the pandemic that pushed coronavirus cases to record levels.

Asked about whether they feel lonely, 4.5 percent said they often or always feel that way, while 14.5 percent said they feel it sometimes and 17.4 percent responded they experience loneliness every once in a while.

In a question allowing multiple answers, many said their loneliness was triggered because they live alone or due to the death of a family member. Feeling sick, starting at a new school or a new job were also cited among the reasons.

By age group among those who often or always feel lonely, those in their 30s were the highest at 7.9 percent, followed by those in their 20s at 7.7 percent. The lowest was those in their 70s at 1.8 percent.

The survey, which yielded valid responses from 11,867 people, showed that about 62 percent said they either hardly or absolutely do not feel lonely due to the pandemic.

Asked how frequently they met friends or family members other than those they live with, respondents who said less than once a month accounted for the most at 15.2 percent, while 11.2 percent said they did not meet anyone at all outside their homes.

The government conducted a nationwide survey covering 20,000 people for the first time, as the impact of the pandemic deepens with issues such as suicide and domestic violence coming to the fore.

COVID-19 restrictions such as halting businesses under a state or quasi-state of emergency to curb the virus spread have also left many businesses reeling, putting a strain on the economy. Under the emergencies, people were also asked to refrain from nonessential outings or travel.

The survey also found that among those who often or always feel lonely, the lower their income was, the lonelier people feel, with 12.5 percent saying they are unemployed.

Currently, Japan no longer has any emergency measures in place, having lifted its latest quasi-state of emergency in 18 prefectures in late March, amid a declining trend in new infections.

However, in recent weeks the government has warned of signs of a resurgence in coronavirus infections, with health experts urging that measures be taken to avoid a "seventh wave" of the pandemic.

With the rate of booster shots particularly low among young people, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Japan's top coronavirus adviser Shigeru Omi on Thursday and the two agreed to push for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

To spur more young people to receive their third shots, the government may offer a 20 percent discount or up to 2,000 yen off a ticket for events such as concerts and sports games.

While 84 percent of people aged 65 and older have received the booster shot, the figure overall was only about 44 percent of Japan's population, according to the latest available government data.