Japan to announce new state of emergency as coronavirus cases rise


Japan is set to declare another state of emergency in Tokyo and three other prefectures on Friday, as the regions face a new wave of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to make the announcement later in the day for a third state of emergency in Tokyo and the western prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, just three months before the start of the postponed Olympics in the capital.

“It is not related to the Olympic Games,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bash said on Thursday, referring to the possible state of emergency in Tokyo.

Hospitals in the four prefectures are under strain due to a surge in coronavirus cases, officials say.

Osaka reported 1,167 new infections on Thursday, exceeding 1,000 cases for the third day in a row, due to the rapid spread of new variants of the virus.

In the three western prefectures, new variants account for more than 80 per cent, Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said at a meeting with a panel of experts in the morning.

“We have a deepening sense of crisis as we have not been able to curb the spread of more contagious new variants of the virus,” said Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s coronavirus response.

Tokyo confirmed 861 new cases, the highest daily figure in nearly three months.

In major cities like Tokyo, almost everyone is wearing a mask in public, but commuter trains are packed and restaurants and department stores have been getting more crowded.

The measure is due to apply in the four prefectures for about three weeks from Sunday to May 11, including the upcoming Golden Week holiday period, according to local media. Tougher restrictions such as the closure of department stores are likely to be introduced to reduce crowding.

“We would like to carry out tougher measures such as business closure requests more intensively to curb the flow of people thoroughly and stop the spread of infections,” Nishimura said.

The roll-out of coronavirus vaccines finally began in mid-February, but its pace has been extremely slow. Only 0.7 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to the prime minister’s office.

Japan imposed a month-long nationwide state of emergency in April, though the measure lasted for one and a half months in some prefectures.

A second state of emergency was issued for 11 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, in January. It was lifted in Tochigi, north of the capital, in February and the other prefectures in March.

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