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Domestic tourism restart could triple local serious COVID-19 cases: Japan professor

In this unrelated file photo, the normally bustling Nakamise shopping street is seen empty in Taito Ward, Tokyo, on March 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

Estimates by an east Japan professor claim that the number of serious coronavirus cases among residents in Japan's tourism spots could become up to three times higher if controls stopping people from visiting are lifted.

The data was compiled by professor Setsuya Kurahashi, who teaches systems management at the University of Tsukuba in the city of the same name in Ibaraki Prefecture, eastern Japan. With the government set to fully lift its request for people to refrain from traveling to other prefectures from June 19, an expert said, "Even in tourist spots, there needs to be enhanced implementation of infection prevention measures such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests."

The professor based his calculations on a hypothesized popular vacation spot in central Japan's Nagano Prefecture with a population of 3,200, many holiday homes, and easy access to Tokyo.

His results found that if the flow of people from other regions was stopped, and if one resident in the tourist town developed coronavirus symptoms, then after a short while up to 12 people in a day were projected to display severe cases of the disease.

But if every seven days one infected person from the capital region or other areas came to visit the tourist spot, and controls on nighttime excursions were not put in place, it is expected that a maximum of 36 people per day could present serious COVID-19 symptoms.

However, his calculations showed that if local workers at hotels and other facilities that come into contact with tourists were subjected to a PCR test every five days, and any positive cases were isolated along with other measures, then the number of serious coronavirus cases could be brought under control to rates achieved by stopping visits, and it may even be able to bring the numbers lower than this standard.

Kurahashi said, "Efforts should be made to find ways to give workers at accommodation facilities and others PCR tests, and for local people to as much as possible reduce their interactions with visitors from outside."

(Japanese original by Ayumu Iwasaki, Science & Environment News Department)

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