Japan to extend virus emergency to March 7 as hospitals strained

Kyodo News

Posted at Feb 02 2021 08:19 AM

TOKYO - The Japanese government is set Tuesday to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and other regions struggling to contain the novel coronavirus by one month to March 7, as hospitals remain under pressure from a surge in patients in serious condition.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will make a final decision after hearing from an expert panel.

Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures -- Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama -- as well as Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka are all expected to remain under the state of emergency based on a law aimed at containing virus infections, according to a government official familiar with the plans.

But Tochigi, located to the capital's north, will be removed because its coronavirus situation has significantly improved. Okinawa, which was under consideration to be added due to outbreaks on remote islands, will be left off the list.

Under the state of emergency, people are urged to refrain from unnecessary outings while restaurants and bars are being asked to close early. Businesses are encouraged to adopt remote working and attendance at large events has been capped.

While the measures have been laxer than the previous state of emergency last spring, when schools were closed nationwide and some businesses were told to temporarily close, they have been at least somewhat successful in bringing down the number of infections.

Tokyo reported 393 coronavirus cases on Monday, the lowest figure in more than a month and down from the single-day peak of 2,447.

But the numbers of COVID-19 patients in serious condition and deaths attributed to the disease remain near their peak, and health experts warn it will take time before the situation improves.

Suga, who has seen his public support dwindle amid criticism that his pandemic response has been sluggish, is scrambling to contain the coronavirus in time for this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Japan is behind other countries such as the United States in rolling out vaccines, with inoculations for health workers to begin later this month followed by people aged 65 and older in April at the earliest.

After consulting the expert panel, Suga is slated to appear in parliament to explain the reasoning behind the extension of the state of emergency, before formally announcing the decision at a meeting of the government's COVID-19 task force and holding a press conference in the evening.

The prime minister is also expected to answer for members of the ruling coalition who visited hostess bars in Tokyo's glitzy Ginza district despite the government's guidelines to stay home.

Three of the lawmakers were effectively kicked out of Suga's Liberal Democratic Party over the matter, while another belonging to junior coalition partner Komeito resigned from parliament.

Suga declared a state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area on Jan. 7 and expanded it to the other prefectures on Jan. 13. Unlike other countries that have imposed hard lockdowns, Japan has no legal basis to punish rule breakers.

To add teeth to measures, the government has proposed legislation introducing fines for COVID-19 patients refusing to be hospitalized as well as restaurants and bars ignoring orders to close early.

The legislation -- revisions to the coronavirus special measures law and the infectious disease law -- passed the House of Representatives on Monday and is expected to be enacted Wednesday following approval by the House of Councillors.


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