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Tokyo, Osaka region to come under COVID emergency from Sun. to May 11

22 April 2021 21:11

TOKYO. KAZINFORM - The Japanese government is considering placing Tokyo and three western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo under a state of emergency from Sunday to May 11, covering the country's upcoming string of holidays, in an attempt to curb surging COVID-19 infections, a senior official said Thursday, Kyodo reports.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to finalize the decision at a task force meeting on Friday, as a resurgence of infections puts pressure on the medical system with just three months until the Tokyo Olympics kick off.

Suga told reporters Thursday that he will take the necessary measures focusing on the upcoming Golden Week holidays, usually one of the busiest times of the year for travel, to «stop the spread of infections by all means.»

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura called on the government not to waste any time, saying the measure should begin this weekend. Osaka, the current epicenter of coronavirus cases in the country, reported a record 1,242 new infections on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Osaka logged 1,167 additional cases, putting a serious strain on the western Japan prefecture's medical system amid an increase in its hospital bed occupancy rate for people in serious condition.

The nationwide tally surpassed 5,000 for the second day in a row, returning to the level seen in late January when the previous state of emergency was in place in Tokyo, Osaka and other areas.

The government will examine the situation, including the availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, and will make a decision after determining the necessary restrictions as well as the appropriate time period and area, its top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, told a press conference.

Tokyo, which reported 861 new cases on Thursday, and Osaka plan to ask major commercial facilities such as department stores, shopping malls and amusement parks to temporarily close.

The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to request eateries serving alcohol to close temporarily, according to an official with knowledge of the situation. It may also call for events to be held without spectators in principle.

Meanwhile, the Osaka governor has said he will ask restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol and close on weekends, a step further than his current request for eateries to close by 8 p.m.

Tokyo's daily infection figures are returning to levels seen in late January, when the second state of emergency was in place.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Thursday, «We cannot suppress (the spread of the virus) in the way we did before. Stronger measures are needed.»

The government could make exceptions for certain facilities in order to soften the blow to the economy, which is already reeling from COVID-19 restrictions and the loss of foreign tourists due to the pandemic, people familiar with the matter said.

Infections have been back on the rise across the country despite a quasi-state of emergency covering 10 prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka. The daily nationwide total topped 5,000 on Wednesday for the first time in three months.

Health experts have warned of the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, with a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare panel estimating they account for about 80 percent of all cases in Osaka and Hyogo, and a rapidly growing share in Tokyo.

Suga has said the declaration of the country's third state of emergency, following those in April last year and January, will not affect the staging of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, reiterating the government will continue efforts to ensure they are «safe and secure.»

But public skepticism remains high, with 39.2 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News poll this month saying the games should be canceled and 32.8 percent saying they should be rescheduled.