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Japan increases virus restrictions due to omicron surges within cities

TOKYO (AP), -- Tokyo's restaurants and bars will be closed early Friday due to COVID-19 restrictions. This is in response to the increase in cases in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

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Japan increases virus restrictions due to omicron surges within cities

This pre-state emergency is a form of restraint and will last until February 13. The state of restraint covers 16 areas or one-third the country, with three additional prefectures, Okinawa and Hiroshima, being subject to similar measures since January.

Many Japanese adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, very few have received a booster shot. This is vital to protect from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Friday's approval by the Health Ministry of Pfizer vaccines for children aged 5-11 years, who are more susceptible to infection, was a significant step in the right direction.

Japan has refused to use lockdowns during the pandemic. Instead, it has focused on forcing restaurants to close earlier and refusing to serve alcohol. It also urges the public to wear masks as a way to reduce economic damage.

Most eateries must close at 8 or 9 p.m. according to the latest regulations. Large events, however, can be allowed full capacity if they have anti virus plans. Tokyo has two options: certified eateries can open up until 9 p.m., while those that serve alcohol must close one hour earlier.

Restaurants that close after 9 p.m. but don't serve alcohol get 30,000 yen ($263) per-day in government compensation. Those that close at 8 pm receive 25,000 yen ($220/day).

Critics claim that the measures, which almost exclusively target restaurants and bars, are illogical and unfair.

Mitsuru Saga is the manager of an "izakaya" restaurant with Japanese style in Tokyo. He said that he decided to serve alcohol and close at 8. p.m. even though he received less compensation from government.

Saga stated that it was impossible to make a business without alcohol in an interview with Nippon Television. It seems that only restaurants are being targeted for restraints.

Experts question the effectiveness and safety of restraints being placed only on restaurants. However, infections are not slowing down in the three prefectures which have been under the same measures for almost two weeks.

Japanese have become less cooperative after two years of being subject to repeated restraints, social distancing requests and other restrictions. People now prefer to commute on packed trains or shop in crowded shops, and are returning to their old habits.

Tokyo's Shinagawa main train station was jammed Friday morning with commuters trying to get to work.

Japan temporarily relaxed its border controls in November, but then quickly reversed them to ban all foreign entrants after the omicron variant started spreading in other countries. Japan insists that it will continue to enforce its strict border policy until February, as the country seeks to strengthen medical systems and improve treatment.

Foreign students and scholars have criticised the strict border controls, claiming that they are not scientific.

A group of Japanese-American experts and scholars launched a petition to Joshua Walker, head of Japan Society, asking Prime Minister Fumio Wishida to allow students and scholars to return to the country under strict preventive measures.

A letter addressed to Kishida was signed by hundreds academics and experts in Japan/U.S. Studies. It urged the government to ease border controls so that students, educators, and scholars can enter Japan to pursue their academic activities. Many of them were forced to abandon Japan and concentrate on South Korea.

They are the bridges that connect Japan with other countries. They will be future leaders in business, politics, and education. They are the foundation for the U.S. Japan alliance and other international relations that support Japan's core interests," the letter stated. The closure is detrimental to Japan's national and international interests.

Japan announced recently that it would allow 87 Japanese students to enter the country under its government scholarships. However, petitioners claim there are many other foreign-funded scholarships who could not get in.

Tokyo recorded 9,699 confirmed cases on Friday, surpassing the 8,638 record the previous day.

Norio Ohmagari is the director of the Disease Control and Prevention Center of National Center for Global Health and advisor to the Tokyo metropolitan government panel. He said Tokyo's daily cases could exceed 18,000 in a week if this increase continues.

Experts say that the virus will quickly spread to the elderly, even though only a small number of infected people are admitted to hospital.

Schools and other areas in certain areas are also paralyzed.

The ministry has reduced the self-isolation period for people who are in close contact with anyone who is positive for COVID-19 to just 10 days, and seven days for critical workers who are not.

Although about 80% of Japanese have had their first doses of vaccines, only 1.4 percent of the population has received booster shots.

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