TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japanese government is preparing to pause its domestic travel campaign in two cities following sharp rises in COVID-19 cases, the minister handling the government’s coronavirus response said on Tuesday.
The move would be a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s aim to use the Go To Travel campaign to prop up regional economies, while critics said the programme risked spreading the infection from major cities to the countryside.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said he hoped a final decision on the temporary exclusion of the cities of Osaka and Sapporo from the programme could be made later in the day.
“Infections are spreading and medical care is becoming tense, so I think it’s good to act as soon as possible,” Nishimura told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Nishimura said the two cities would initially be excluded for three weeks, during which time no new reservations could be made under the programme.
Suga said on Saturday the government would suspend new reservations under the Go To Travel programme for trips to hard-hit areas as new coronavirus cases have continued to rise nationally.
Suga has been trying to revitalise the hard-hit economy while keeping the spread of the coronavirus under control.
Osaka city in the west of Japan reported 171 new cases on Monday after seeing a record 286 cases the previous day, a city official told Reuters.
The city of Sapporo in the north reported 140 daily cases on Monday, below a record 197 cases reported on Thursday last week, a city official said.
The capital of Tokyo has seen new infections soar past 500 in recent days, and serious cases reached 51 on Tuesday, the most since a state of emergency was lifted in May.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that there was a rise in infections among older residents, including cases where people had contracted the virus while eating out and brought it home to their relatives.
Reporting by Daniel Leussink, Chris Gallagher, Jack Tarrant and Rocky Swift; Editing by Kim Coghill and Ana Nicolaci da Costa