People wearing face masks walk under New Year's decorations in the street leading to Asakusa Sensoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo, on Dec. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan confirmed a total of 502 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, exceeding the 500 mark for the first time in over two months and creating a source of concern among the public as people travel across the country during the year-end and New Year's holiday period.
Of the total, Tokyo reported 76, the highest level since Oct. 16, and Osaka Prefecture logged 61, the highest since Nov. 11. Of Osaka's cases, 11 were infected with the heavily mutated Omicron variant.
As of Wednesday, 20 Omicron cases were confirmed in Okinawa Prefecture, six in Aichi Prefecture, five in Yamaguchi Prefecture and two in Fukuoka Prefecture, among other areas.
With the spread of the Omicron variant through community transmissions in the country, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he will reinforce measures to prevent the infections by preparing for "worst case scenarios."
"I will do my best in making oral medicine widely available and securing a health care service system," Kishida said in a year-end video message via Twitter.
He vowed to ensure an earlier start of booster shots for health care professionals and high-risk elderly, including those at nursing facilities, and expand the availability of free polymerase chain reaction tests.
Epidemic experts have suggested the prime minister shift the government's focus in the fight against the Omicron variant to domestic measures, as border enforcement alone appears to not be enough to contain the spread.
Kishida remains cautious about relaxing border enforcement measures and is expected to make a decision on that in line with the infection situation in the year-end and new-year period.
A total of 113 people who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai airports from overseas between Dec. 17-25 have been infected with the new variant, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The number of new COVID-19 infections in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan has been rising, although overall cases remain relatively small compared with the fifth wave that prompted the government to implement rounds of a COVID-19 state of emergency and quasi-state of emergency.
In Tokyo, the latest seven-day average of new infections stood at 44.9 per day, up 57 percent from the previous week, according to the metropolitan government.
The capital's government, however, reported no new COVID-19-related deaths.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan, said Wednesday a record 80 people on the base were infected with COVID-19.
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