TOKYO - The Japanese government plans to expand the ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency beyond Tokyo and the Osaka area and extend it to the end of May in a bid to bring down infections and ease the strain on hospitals, senior officials said Thursday.
Restrictions in effect since April 25 for eating establishments and large commercial facilities had been set to ease next Tuesday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to declare a state of emergency in Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures and announce the extension on Friday, the officials said.
The measures in place in Tokyo and the western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo include a ban on restaurants serving alcohol with fines for noncompliance and nonbinding requests for department stores and movie theaters to temporarily close.
Spectators have been barred from attending large events such as sports games, businesses encouraged to have employees work from home, and services on public transportation pared down.
The measures have been successful in reducing the number of people out and about, Suga told reporters after meeting with members of his Cabinet including health minister Norihisa Tamura and Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 response, adding he will decide the details of the extension after hearing from health experts.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said the situation in the capital has not improved enough to lift the state of emergency, voicing concern over the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.
Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo also decided to ask the central government for an extension, given infections have yet to significantly decline.
The government, worried about dealing a further blow to the world's third-largest economy, plans to ease restrictions somewhat, the officials said. Large commercial facilities will open back up but with shorter hours, while spectators at large events will be allowed with a cap of 5,000 or 50 percent of venue capacity.
The measures will take effect in Aichi and Fukuoka next Wednesday.
Osaka reported 747 new infections on Thursday, down 40 percent from last Saturday, though the fall could be attributed to some hospitals closing or running in a reduced capacity during the Golden Week holidays.
Tokyo, set to host the Summer Olympics in less than three months, reported 591 new infections, while Hyogo logged 281 and Kyoto saw 130.
Koike on Wednesday urged people to continue avoiding contact with others by working from home, saying the number of daily consultations regarding high fever rose to 2,500 the previous day, hitting the same level as the year-end and New Year period when the country was experiencing its third wave of coronavirus infections.
The government is also set to extend a quasi-state of emergency covering Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Ehime and Okinawa prefectures to the end of May and add Hokkaido, Gifu and Mie, the officials said. Miyagi, which has seen a fall in coronavirus cases, will be removed.
The designation entails less strict restrictions than a full-fledged emergency, including requests for restaurants and bars to close early in targeted areas and reduced attendance at large events.