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Locals blame 'Go To Travel' campaign for virus cluster on remote Hokkaido island


SAPPORO -- A cluster of coronavirus infections was confirmed for the first time on a remote island in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on Nov. 12, as the prefecture recorded a daily high of 236 COVID-19 cases.

    Concerns about further infections on Hokkaido's Rishiiri Island are spreading as the island lacks a sufficient medical system, and locals are now criticizing the government's "Go To Travel" subsidy campaign for the crisis.

    The cluster of infections occurred at an eatery in the town of Rishirifuji, and a total of 10 workers and customers contracted the virus. Including infections confirmed by Nov. 12, Rishiri Island now has recorded 14 coronavirus cases.

    A resident in his 50s said angrily, "People bring the virus from outside of the island. I could understand the Go To campaign if the virus were contained, but to continue it in this kind of situation is equivalent to bringing in the virus from major cities. It's inconsistent with the (government's) call for infection prevention."

    A representative of the commercial and industrial association in Rishirifuji told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's regrettable that it happened after we've been asking stores to take preventive measures like using disinfection. We're worried about how far the virus will spread." Though the island's main sightseeing season is in the summer, some tourists continue to visit Rishiri Island after the peak, which has spread anxiety among residents.

    According to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government and other sources, there is only one hospital on the island that accepts coronavirus patients, with just a few numbers of beds. Patients who need to be treated outside of the island are planned to be transported by the Japan Coast Guard and other public agency vessels and aircraft. Some patients are already in the process of being transported.

    The executive advisory engineer of Hokkaido prefecture's health and welfare department said, "This time everything is going well, but there is a concern about having trouble transporting patients in winter (due to the stormy weather)."

    Rishiri Island had been making efforts to prevent infections, asking visitors and others to refrain from coming to the island in a statement in April and May, when the central government had called for the coronavirus state of emergency. Rishiifuji Mayor Shozo Tamura announced, "We are in a state of emergency. I know residents are feeling anxious, but I ask them to act in an orderly fashion and take further preventive measures."

    (Japanese original by Hiroaki Kishikawa, Hokkaido News Department)

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