Japan to declare fresh state of virus emergency in 4 regions including Tokyo, Osaka
The Japanese government will declare a fresh COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures on Friday amid surging cases, local media quoted informed sources as saying Wednesday.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura requested that the central government declare a state of emergency for his prefecture as COVID-19 cases have consistently surpassed those of Tokyo's recently, with the western prefecture struggling to provide enough beds for patients with serious symptoms.
Yoshimura told the central government that he plans to request bars and restaurants in certain areas, along with department stores and amusement parks, to suspend their operations temporarily, in a bid to curb the further spread of the virus.
He also said he wants people's movements to be further restricted, and elementary and junior high school classes in Osaka may also be asked to be temporarily held online.
Yoshimura believes the current quasi-emergency COVID-19 measures are ineffective, calling on bars and restaurants to close on weekends and suspend the selling of alcohol.
Tokyo, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures, meanwhile, also asked the central government to impose a state of emergency, following Yoshimura's request the previous day and may call for similar restrictions as Yoshimura.
Ehime Prefecture, meanwhile, has asked for a quasi-state of emergency.
"We will cooperate with local governments and study the contents of the measures they plan to take. Then I will make a decision, possibly this week," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a press briefing on the matter Wednesday.
His remarks followed a meeting held on the matter with relevant Cabinet members, including Health Minister Norihisa Tamura and minister in charge of Japan's coronavirus response Yasutoshi Nishimura.
Nishimura said the situation in Osaka was approaching a critical level and that more stringent antiviral measures need to be imminently introduced.
"The situation in Osaka is extremely severe. We have to implement stronger measures in a concentrated manner," Nishimura told a parliamentary committee on the matter.
When the declaration is made by Suga for the four prefectures, informed sources said the emergency measures will be in place throughout the upcoming Golden Week string of national holidays through early May. Golden Week is usually one of the most popular times of the year for Japanese people to travel.
Under the tougher restrictions likely to be imposed, however, sources said people will be asked to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors and avoid crossing prefectural lines where possible, effective barring leisure travel during the Golden Week holidays.
On Wednesday, Osaka reported a record 1,242 new COVID-19 cases, while Tokyo confirmed 843 new cases, the highest level since the previous state of emergency expired late last month. Hyogo reported a record 563 new infections, while Kyoto's daily tally hit 128, according to local officials and the health ministry.
Nationwide, 5,291 new infections were reported Wednesday, bringing the cumulative total since the outbreak of the virus to 548,256 cases. The death toll has now reached a total of 9,786 people, according to the latest figures Wednesday evening.
Shigeru Omi, the head of the government's subcommittee on the pandemic and an expert in infectious diseases said Wednesday that a state of emergency for the prefectures requesting them "must be declared as soon as possible taking into account the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, and should remain in place for at least three weeks."
A panel of experts from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the highly transmissible virus variants now account for roughly 80 percent of infections in Osaka and Hyogo and a rapidly growing proportion of new cases in the capital.