Japan to expand virus emergency to seven more regions

by AFP

TOKYO – Japan is set to expand a coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday to seven more regions including the major cities of Osaka and Kyoto, as infections surge nationwide.

While the country’s outbreak remains comparatively small, with around 4,100 deaths overall, there has been a sharp spike in cases this winter and medics say hospitals are under heavy strain in the worst-affected areas.

The month-long emergency measure — which unlike strict lockdowns elsewhere in the world carries no enforcement mechanism — was implemented in the greater Tokyo area last week.

It asks restaurants and bars to close by 8 pm, with residents requested to avoid unnecessary outings and telework strongly encouraged.

“We want to have a declining trend in infections by February 7, by all means,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan’s pandemic response, referring to the period’s planned end date.

The move, expected to be announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this evening, means that, from Thursday, 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures will be under the state of emergency — accounting for about 60 percent of its GDP.

They range from central Aichi, an industrial and commercial hub, to Fukuoka in the southwest and Osaka, which has reported record new cases in recent days along with neighbouring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

The law does not currently allow authorities to enforce the requests, although the government is planning legislation to fine businesses that do not comply.

It comes just over six months before the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to open. Suga has insisted he is committed to holding the Games this summer, despite polls showing widespread public opposition.