India sees sharp rise in cases as doctors’ strike sparks fear of frontline shortages 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses the public in a video posted on Twitter and YouTube. (Office of the Prime Minister of Japan/YouTube)

Japan reported 501 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday — the first time the country has exceeded the 500 mark in more than two months.

The rise in cases, after a long stretch of low infection numbers, sparked concern as the public prepared to travel across the country to celebrate the New Year.

In a video message posted on Twitter Wednesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to reinforce measures to prevent the community spread of Omicron infections by preparing for “worst-case scenarios.”

“I will do my best to make oral medicine widely available and secure the health care system,” Kishida said.

Japan has fully vaccinated close to 80% of its population as of December 27. Cases had nosedived in recent months across the country, with fewer than 100 reported cases a day since October, after previously topping 25,000 daily infections during the summer. 

But Japan reported its first locally transmitted case of Omicron on December 23 — and cases of the highly transmissible variant have been slowly rising nationwide.

Cases on US military bases: In a news release Wednesday, officials at the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan, said 80 personnel had tested positive for Covid.

That’s the highest number reported on the base in a single day.

Meanwhile, at the Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, nearly 300 people have been confirmed to be infected so far, according to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK. Japan’s Foreign Ministry believes 47% of the samples are of the Omicron variant.

At a news conference last week, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said US forces in Japan didn’t test their personnel before they left the United States, in a move that undermines Tokyo’s request to follow its border control measures.

Japan had urged the US military to adhere to coronavirus testing and quarantine rules last Wednesday, as the Camp Hansen cluster grew.

In response, Marine Forces Japan have reinstituted mask mandates for everyone on-base regardless of vaccination status, except for activities like eating or exercising.

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