The Japanese government will extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas by about three weeks until the end of May on Friday in an attempt to curb the increase in novel coronavirus cases just months before the Tokyo Olympics begin.
The government had hoped that a “short and powerful” state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infections, but new cases in the capital Tokyo and in the second city of Osaka are still at a high level, said Minister of Economic Affairs, Yasutoshi Nishimura, of pandemic measures.
The May 11th to May 31st extension of the state of emergency will remain less than two months before the start of the July 23rd Games, which have been postponed for a year due to the pandemic.
“Osaka, in particular, is in a rather dangerous situation with its medical system,” said Nishimura on Friday at the beginning of a meeting with a panel of medical and economic experts, noting that variant strains are spreading rapidly.
“We have a strong sense of danger that Tokyo could soon find itself in the same situation as Osaka.”
The panel later approved the renewal plan, Nishimura said. Formal government approval is due later in the day. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will hold a press conference at 7 p.m. (10:00 GMT).
All hospital beds for critical patients in Osaka are occupied, the public broadcaster NHK reported on Friday.
Nationwide, Japan has recorded 618,197 cases of novel coronavirus infection and about 10,585 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, government figures showed.
State of emergency expanded
Nishimura said the government intends to place Aichi Prefecture west of Tokyo and Fukuoka Prefecture in the southwest in a state of emergency – along with Tokyo and Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, which are home to nearly a quarter of the population.
The North Island of Hokkaido and two other areas will be added to regions that are in a “state of emergency,” he said.
The Extended State of Emergency will continue to urge bars, restaurants, karaoke parlors and other places serving alcohol to stop drinking, while continuing to urge people to avoid unnecessary trips.
But other requests are being relaxed, Nishimura said.
Commercial establishments such as shopping malls are being asked to shorten their hours of operation instead of closing them completely – although he noted that Tokyo and Osaka would make their own decisions based on local conditions.
Japan has not suffered as badly from the virus as other nations, but its vaccination campaign has lagged significantly and even many older people are still waiting to be vaccinated.
During the half marathon of the Hokkaido Sapporo Marathon Festival 2021 on Wednesday, a spectator lifts a paper sign reading “It is impossible to host the Olympics, face reality” along the circuit [Kyodo via Reuters]Still, Japan and the International Olympic Committee insist that the Games take place even though foreign spectators have been banned. A decision about the domestic audience is still pending.
Upcoming test events for the Olympics, including a weekend track and field event, will not be affected by the extension of the state of emergency. The diving world championship, in which more than 200 athletes from 50 countries took part, took place last week in Tokyo under the current state of emergency.
US pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE said Thursday they would donate doses of their novel coronavirus vaccine to vaccinate athletes and other members of Olympic delegations.
Still, the Fukuoka Prefecture governor said it could be “difficult” to host the Olympic torch relay in a state of emergency, Jiji News Agency reported Thursday.
The season is scheduled to take place in the prefecture on May 11th and 12th.