Japanese island hit by second wave of coronavirus after ending lockdown early

Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido — the first area of the country to see a major coronavirus outbreak — was forced back into lockdown after lifting its stringent restrictions too early, according to new reports.

The prefecture of 5.3 million people, known for its rugged mountainous terrain and history of farming and fishing, went into lockdown in late February in response to a sharp acceleration in infections, which largely stemmed from its annual Sapporo Snow Festival, TIME reported.

The region, at first, was lauded for quickly containing the outbreak with a 3-week lockdown, but when prefectural governor Naomichi Suzuki lifted the restrictions, a second wave of infections slammed the island even harder, according to the report.

The region was forced back into lockdown.

“Now I regret it, we should not have lifted the first state of emergency,” Dr. Kiyoshi Nagase, chairman of the Hokkaido Medical Association, who helped coordinate the government response, told the outlet.

The island’s story serves as a wake-up call for leaders of other nations — including the US — as they consider loosening restrictions, Kazuto Suzuki, Vice Dean of International Politics at Hokkaido University, told TIME.

“Hokkaido shows, for example, that what’s happening in the U.S. with individual governors opening up is very dangerous; of course you can’t close interstate traffic but you need to put controls in place,” he said. “That’s what we now know: Even if you control the first wave, you can’t relax.”

Sapporo Subway Station in Hokkaido Prefecture
Sapporo Subway Station in Hokkaido PrefectureAP

Japan has so far confirmed about 15,000 coronavirus cases, including about 700 from the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo in February, Kyodo News reported Thursday.

About 470 deaths have been reported.

The Tokyo metropolitan government confirmed 46 new infections Thursday, according to the report.

The country is considering extending its nationwide state of emergency until the end of May to help contain the spread of the virus, government sources told the outlet Thursday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to seek opinions from a panel of experts Friday before coming to a decision.

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