Japan decides to add 4 prefectures to COVID emergency amid Olympics
TOKYO. KAZINFORM - Japan decided Friday to expand its COVID-19 state of emergency to Osaka and three prefectures near Tokyo as a recent spike in coronavirus cases to record levels has raised fears that the country's medical system could collapse amid the Tokyo Olympics, Kyodo reports.
Facing the urgent need to take stronger anti-virus measures, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will add Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Osaka prefectures to areas under the emergency, which already covers Tokyo and Okinawa, from next Monday through Aug. 31.
The COVID-19 emergency initially declared for Tokyo and Okinawa through Aug. 22 will also be extended until the end of the month. The new period overlaps with the Olympics, which started last week and will run through Aug. 8, and also partly covers the Paralympics period starting Aug. 24.
«Novel coronavirus infections are spreading in the Tokyo metropolitan area as well as the Kansai region (in western Japan) at an unprecedented speed,» Suga said at the end of a task force meeting held after the emergency expansion got approval from experts in infectious diseases and other fields earlier in the day.
The prime minister also urged the public to refrain from nonurgent travel during the summer vacation period and to carefully decide whether to visit their hometowns.
The government is also set to put five prefectures -- Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka -- under a quasi-state of emergency, which carries fewer restrictions on business activity than the state of emergency, from Monday to the end of August.
The four prefectures to be newly included in the state of emergency are currently under a quasi-state of emergency.
Japan's daily total of COVID-19 cases topped 10,000 for the first time on Thursday. Tokyo confirmed 3,300 infections Friday after reporting record figures for three days in a row.
The surge in infections comes amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus first detected in India. The number of people going out has only fallen mildly, with the capital currently hosting the Olympics and many in Tokyo tired of restrictions under the virus emergency.
Under the state of emergency, restaurants and bars serving alcohol or offering karaoke services are asked to shut during the period while the government provides money for compliance. Those not serving liquor are requested to close at 8 p.m.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 response, told experts Friday that the government will ask dining establishments in areas under a quasi-emergency to stop providing alcohol in principle.
Only when the number of infections indicates a downward trend may provision of alcohol be allowed in areas under a quasi-emergency with a governor's approval, according to the government's basic policy presented to the experts.
«If the number of those who test positive stays at a high level, it will lead to a shortage of hospital beds. We have a very strong sense of crisis,» he said at a meeting of health experts.
Nishimura said the Delta variant now makes up a large portion of the infections in the metropolitan area and again urged people to avoid nonessential outings or if they do go out to keep the number of people to a bare minimum.
While the government has repeatedly said vaccination is the key to bringing the pandemic under control, Japan's vaccine rollout has lagged behind other developed nations, with slightly over a quarter of its population having received two shots.
Public dissatisfaction with the government's coronavirus response could add pressure on Suga ahead of a general election later this year.