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World News

Japan needs regional strategy to head off winter surge in COVID-19 cases - expert

TOKYO (Reuters) - As COVID-19 cases in Japan rise again, an expert advising the government said regions must take localised approaches to counter a possible surge during winter.

A medical worker wearing a protective suit conducts a simulation for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at newly-opened Narita International Airport PCR Center operated by Nippon Medical School Foundation, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing facility aimed at outbound travelers who need proof that they do not have the virus before arriving at their destination, at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Daily cases in the northern island of Hokkaido have reached record highs recently, while those in Tokyo crossed 300 on Wednesday for the first time since August.

The sources of those and other clusters are different and require focused attention, Tohoku University professor Hitoshi Oshitani said.

“There is no single solution for the whole country,” said Oshitani, who serves on a panel advising the government and helped build Japan’s contagion cluster-busting strategy.

“We are proposing to have a risk-based approach in each prefecture. They have to do more close monitoring of the clusters.”

The Hokkaido infections are centered around entertainment areas, while those around the western metropolis of Osaka are clustered around nursing homes and hospitals, Oshitani said.

With more than 108,000 cases and 1,840 deaths, Japan has weathered the pandemic better than most major nations.

The government has pledged to provide free vaccinations for the whole populace by mid-2021 and it has secured supplies of leading vaccine candidates including one developed by Pfizer Inc PFE.N. [nL1N2HV0TR]

Even so, Oshitani expressed pessimism that vaccines will be an immediate fix.

“We have to live with the virus for some time,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s for months or years.”

Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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