Tokyo: Japan's government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people. Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while COVID-19 cases jump.

The order will be finalised this week and is likely to take effect Friday for Tokyo and nine other regions, including Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi and Kumamoto, the government spokesman said Tuesday.An order was issued earlier this month for Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures. Other areas seeing surging infections, such as Osaka, may be added later.  "The infections are rising at an unprecedented speed," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Worries are growing about infections spreading so quickly that hospital systems may get stretched thin, he said. He acknowledged additional action may be needed if the numbers of people shoot up, required to undergo quarantine or hospitalisation.  

About 80 per cent of the Japanese population have received two vaccine shots, but only 1 per cent the booster. The government has promised to speed up boosters, but most people won't be getting them until after March or later, under the current schedule.          

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