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Okinawa governor asks people to refrain from visiting to prevent spread of virus

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki is seen wearing a mask at a press conference held in the prefectural capital of Naha on April 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Takayasu Endo)

NAHA -- Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki called on residents of the seven prefectures under the state of emergency and people from elsewhere to refrain from visiting the southernmost Japan prefecture to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Although banning visits to this tourism-oriented prefecture would have a great impact on Okinawa's economy, Tamaki emphasized that "protecting the health and lives of Okinawans is top priority" at an April 8 press conference -- one day after the national government declared a state of emergency for seven prefectures.

In Okinawa Prefecture, five people tested positive for the new coronavirus on April 8, bringing the total number of infections to 39. New cases have been confirmed almost every day in the prefecture since April 4, and a record daily high of 12 people tested positive on April 7. Many of those are considered to be Okinawans or tourists who carried the virus from the greater Tokyo area, Kinki region in western Japan or elsewhere. A resident-to-resident infection has already been confirmed.

Tamaki has been calling for Okinawans to exercise self-restraint in traveling outside of the prefecture for nonessential or nonurgent reasons since late March. However, the Okinawa Prefectural Government's expert panel of health professionals began saying in April that would-be visitors to the prefecture should also be asked to exercise the same kind of self-restraint.

In March, young people and families with children flocked to Okinawa's Ishigaki Island, likely avoiding traveling overseas and places seeing coronavirus outbreaks. Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama asked on March 31 that people refrain from visiting the scenic island. Other local governments have also called for people to exercise self-restraint in coming to remote islands with weak health systems.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo and Nozomu Takeuchi, Naha Bureau)

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