Passersby wearing protective face masks walk on the street at Yokohama’s China town in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Dec 1, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Cases surge hits new PM’s poll ratings, while strains follow clamps in Seoul

TOKYO/SEOUL-Japan and South Korea grappled with surging coronavirus cases and growing public frustration on Monday as Japan’s prime minister suspended a contentious travel subsidy program while South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga late on Monday further restricted a travel subsidy program in a bid to contain mounting coronavirus infections, as his approval rating plummeted to about 50 percent from about 70 percent in the three months over the handling of the pandemic.

The government has decided to suspend the “Go To Travel” from Dec 28 to Jan 11 nationwide, local media reported on Monday.

Suga also announced plans to compensate bars that cooperate with early-closure requests and provide special allowances for medical workers.

Media had widely reported earlier that the suspension would cover only the hardest-hit cities and regions such as the capital, Tokyo, and Nagoya, in central Japan.

Tokyo, the Japanese city hardest hit by the virus, confirmed 480 new infections on Sunday, official figures showed.

South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February.

Schools in the capital region would move classes online until the end of the month, in the latest ratcheting up of social distancing measures which so far have failed to reverse the spike in infections.

The school closures mark a step toward the imposition of Phase 3 social distancing rules, a move that would essentially lock down Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said such a step required careful review, as the government comes under mounting pressure to do more to stem the rise in infections.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Monday reported 718 new cases, down from the record daily increase from a day earlier.