Japan to expand COVID-19 state of emergency

Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 25 2021 06:24 PM

The Japanese government decided Wednesday to bring eight more prefectures under its COVID-19 state of emergency as the country grapples with its largest wave of infections.

Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Okayama and Hiroshima will come under the measure from Friday until Sept. 12, joining 13 other prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka.

The move comes just days after Japan expanded the scope of the state of emergency as the highly-contagious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus continues to spread, putting a strain on the country's medical system.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formalized the decision at a task force meeting following an approval by a panel of experts in infectious diseases and other fields.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's coronavirus response, said at the experts' meeting that medical care in the targeted areas is "in a very severe situation."

Under the state of emergency, restaurants are asked not to serve alcohol or offer karaoke and instructed to close by 8 p.m. Major commercial facilities, including department stores and shopping malls, are requested to limit the number of customers allowed in at the same time.

Suga has also called on foot traffic in crowded areas to be cut by half and for firms to have employees work from home and cut commuters by 70 percent.

The decision to expand the measure comes a day after the Tokyo Paralympics began, which like the Olympics are being held almost entirely without spectators to lower the risk of infections spreading.

The government will also expand the quasi-state of emergency currently covering 16 prefectures to another four -- Kochi, Saga, Nagasaki and Miyazaki -- allowing governors to place restrictions on specific areas rather than entire prefectures.

The 16 prefectures include the eight to be newly added to areas under the state of emergency. With the latest addition, 33 prefectures, or around 70 percent of Japan's 47 prefectures will be covered from Friday by some form of measures to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The capital reported 4,228 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

Hospitals are struggling to deal with the surge in patients in severe condition, with a shortage of beds forcing many with milder symptoms to cope at home.

The country's vaccination drive has fallen behind other developed nations, as about 40 percent of the population received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government is considering a plan to use some reserve funds for fiscal 2021 set aside for coronavirus countermeasures to secure additional vaccines.

He also suggested the government needs to collect data and study the practice of mixing and matching different vaccine products, saying some overseas data show it is effective in boosting immunity, though the government will not actively recommend such a practice in the current situation.

Public support for Suga has plunged amid dissatisfaction with the government's pandemic response in the lead-up to the leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a general election to be held in the coming months.

The approval rating for Suga's Cabinet fell to 31.8 percent in a recent Kyodo News poll, the lowest since he took office last September.

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