Osaka, 2 more Japan areas to seek COVID quasi-emergency

Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 20 2022 04:37 PM

The western Japan prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo will ask the government Friday to place them under a coronavirus quasi-state emergency amid the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said.

The planned joint request by the three prefectures reflects an increasing strain on the local medical system, with Osaka seeing around 6,000 new daily infections recently, Yoshimura told reporters Thursday in Osaka.

In Osaka, the ratio of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is "likely to reach today or tomorrow" the 35-percent threshold for requesting the central government's emergency step, Yoshimura told reporters.

The prefecture will make a formal decision on Friday following its headquarters meeting on countermeasures against the coronavirus.

A quasi-emergency allows local governors, based on their decisions, to request and order restaurants and bars to close early and stop or limit the serving of alcohol. Japan has seen newly confirmed COVID-19 cases surge recently, sending the daily count above 40,000 for the first time on Wednesday.

In addition to the three western prefectures, Hokkaido, Shizuoka, and Fukuoka are also considering asking the government to place them under a quasi-state of emergency, local officials said Thursday, as the nation scrambles to rein in surging infections.

The potential expansion of quasi-emergency curbs to more prefectures underscores a growing sense of alarm among local authorities about further straining the medical system and essential workers.

The governors of Fukushima and Shimane have revealed they will request the national government to apply quasi-emergency curbs to their areas, raising the likelihood that at least five more areas will come under the antivirus measures.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said in a news conference the government has yet to receive any request from prefectures other than the 16 that have been or are set to be placed under a quasi-emergency.

Japan decided Wednesday to expand quasi-emergency curbs to Tokyo and 12 other prefectures for three weeks from Friday, on top of Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Okinawa that have been subject to the measure since early January following a spike in infections local officials linked to nearby U.S. military bases.

A total of 6,350 cases had been confirmed among U.S. forces stationed in Japan as of Wednesday, of which 4,141 were in Okinawa, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told parliament.

Omicron has posed a new challenge to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and local authorities in imposing antivirus restrictions and keeping the economy going. "We need to join forces to achieve the goal to stop infections but not society," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told her counterparts in the metropolitan area during a virtual meeting.

Kishida has been calling for public cooperation to reverse the trend in rising COVID-19 cases while seeking to speed up the rollout of vaccine booster shots as the government aims to enhance domestic antivirus measures. In the meantime, Japan has imposed what the prime minister has called "the most stringent" border control measures among the Group of Seven advanced economies to keep the inflow of Omicron to a minimum.

A World Health Organization panel on Wednesday recommended member countries lift or ease international traffic bans, saying that they do not provide "added value."

Asked about the recommendation, Kihara said Japan will maintain its entry ban on nonresident foreign nationals into Japan until the end of February as planned. "The infection situations regarding Omicron are clearly different in Japan and abroad," he said.