TOKYO - Governors of prefectures where the spread of the novel corona-virus has increased will be allowed to decide whether to suspend the Go To Travel campaign in their jurisdiction, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Saturday.

"The government will take tougher measures in cooperation with the governors of prefectures where the spread has reached a certain level," the prime minister said at a meeting of the coronavirus task force held at the Prime Minister's Office.

The government is drawing up new criteria that will give prefectural governors flexibility on deciding whether to suspend the campaign, which is aimed at stimulating demand for travel. It considers prefectures including Hokkaido - where the number of infected people is surging - as possible places where Go To Travel could be suspended.

Final adjustments are being made on details of the criteria, led by the Tourism Agency. The government plans to cover cancellation fees that result from suspensions.

The overall campaign will be continued, as part of the government's efforts to strike a balance between promoting economic activities and preventing infections. In order to prevent mass infections in the context of group travel, the government also plans to call for steps such as refraining from eating meals on buses.

The decision to give governors more leeway on suspending the campaign in their areas comes as the government concluded that early action would result in a less negative impact on the economy.

The government's subcommittee on the novel coronavirus - chaired by Shigeru Omi, head of the Japan Community Health Care Organization - made proposals Friday to the government to review its Go To Travel campaign in areas where infections are spreading, based on prefectural leaders' opinions.

"We would like to hasten discussions by the government task force so that we can have a direction for future action," said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of economic revitalization.

The subcommittee had previously called for the exclusion of regions from the campaign if their infection status was determined to be equivalent to Stage 3 criteria. Stage 3 is the second most serious of four levels that correspond to the degree of spread of the infection.

"Sapporo appears to already be in Stage 3, indicating the level of response needed to avoid a surge in infections," Omi said at a press conference on Friday.

Regarding the Go To Eat campaign program, Suga also said Saturday that the government will ask prefectural governors to consider suspending the new issuance of discounted meal tickets for restaurants and refraining from using the Go To Eat point system.

The government has lately decided to provide financial assistance to municipalities that issue "cooperation funds" to local restaurants, bars and other eating establishments that responded to the government's call for reducing business hours. It plans to ask such eating places to apply for the funds.

Meanwhile, with Monday being Labor Thanksgiving Day, the government has called for thorough infection prevention countermeasures to be taken over the three-day weekend.

Suga said at a meeting of prefectural governors on Friday: "The number of [infection] cases exceeded 2,000 recently on a daily basis. We are in a situation of utmost caution."

Suga asked the governors to call for taking thorough countermeasures such as wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding the Three Cs - closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, for his part, urged people to wear masks when they speak during meals. "I want people to have 'quiet masked dining,' during which people speak only while wearing masks," he said at a press conference Friday.

The government is calling for restaurants nationwide to place acrylic dividers on tables and check the ventilation, and for customers to wear face shields and sit diagonally across from each other.


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