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Japan to expand, extend COVID-19 state of emergency

7 May 2021 15:26

TOKYO. KAZINFORM - The Japanese government plans to expand the COVID-19 state of emergency beyond Tokyo and the Osaka region and extend it to May 31 to bring down infections and ease the strain on hospitals, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response said Friday, Kyodo reports.

Yasutoshi Nishimura told a meeting on the government's basic policy in tackling the pandemic that Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures will be added to areas under the emergency from Wednesday, allowing authorities to take tougher anti-virus measures in a bid to curb the growing number of infections there.

«We have a strong sense of crisis,» said Nishimura. The government will «thoroughly curb infections and make sure the number of newly infected declines so that people will feel safe,» he added.

The extension and expansion of Japan's third state of emergency during the pandemic is set to be formally approved at a task force meeting in the afternoon upon approval from experts in infectious diseases and other fields. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is then scheduled to hold a press conference.

Restrictions such as the closure of dining establishments serving alcohol that had been slated to end next Tuesday will continue, although the government now plans to ease some measures, including those on department stores, to mitigate the damage to the world's third-largest economy.

The state of emergency has been in place in Tokyo, which is set to host the Summer Olympics in less than three months, as well as Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures since April 25, with targeted steps aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus during the Golden Week holidays that ran through Wednesday.

Restaurants and bars will continue to be prohibited from serving alcohol or offering karaoke services and must close by 8 p.m. with a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,750) for noncompliance. Businesses will continue to be encouraged to have employees work from home.

Under the new plan, however, large commercial facilities such as department stores will be allowed to reopen with shorter hours, while a ban on spectators at large events such as sports games will be replaced with a cap of 5,000 people or 50 percent of the venue's capacity.

In addition, the government plans to secure by mid-May enough coronavirus antigen testing kits to carry out up to 8 million tests and distribute them to medical and elderly care facilities.

It will also strengthen restrictions on Japanese nationals and foreign residents in the country arriving from India, where more contagious coronavirus variants have been raging, and urge people to refrain from drinking alcohol on streets or in parks in groups.

Suga has stressed the state of emergency, the third since the start of the pandemic, has been successful in reducing the number of people out and about.

But a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare panel warned Thursday infections have continued to increase nationwide, in part due to highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Japan has 1,131 COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, the health ministry said Friday, hitting an all-time high and stoking fears of further strains on health care systems.

The number of such patients had eclipsed 1,000 in late January and again topped the threshold on May 1, according to the ministry.

It saw a total of 4,375 new infections on Thursday. While that is down 27 percent from the height of the fourth wave last Saturday, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the decline is attributable to hospitals testing less during the holidays.

Osaka and Hyogo, in particular, have struggled to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, with several reports of people dying at home while waiting to be admitted.

Meanwhile, Japan's vaccine rollout has lagged behind other countries, including Israel, Britain and the United States, and public dissatisfaction with its coronavirus response could add pressure on Suga ahead of a general election later this year.

The government on Friday is also set to expand a quasi-state of emergency covering Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Ehime and Okinawa prefectures to the end of May and add Hokkaido, Gifu and Mie. Miyagi, which has seen a fall in coronavirus cases, will be removed.

Restrictions under the designation, introduced in a legal revision in February, are not as strict as a full-fledged emergency, with requests for restaurants and bars to close early limited to specific areas and smaller fines for noncompliance.