Japan PM Suga to expand virus emergency to 7 more prefectures

Jan 13 , 2021. 2 hours ago – 08:00 KYODO NEWS

Few people are seen in Osaka’s Shinsekai area on Jan. 12, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told executives of his ruling party the same day that he plans to expand a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus pandemic to cover Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures amid a resurgence of infections in western Japan. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

TOKYO – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to declare a state of emergency in seven additional prefectures including Osaka and Aichi on Wednesday, expanding the scope of the measure amid a resurgence of the coronavirus across Japan.

A state of emergency was imposed for a second time in the Tokyo metropolitan area on Friday, with people encouraged to stay home and restaurants asked to close by 8 p.m.

The prefectures newly declared under a state of emergency — including Tochigi to the north of Tokyo, Gifu in central Japan, Hyogo and Kyoto in the west, and Fukuoka to the southwest — will remain in the status through Feb. 7 like Tokyo and its surrounds.

Their addition brings the number of prefectures under the state of emergency to 11.

Unlike hard lockdowns some other countries have imposed, residents of the target areas are only asked to refrain from nonessential outings, and there is no punishment for those who fail to comply. Schools will remain open, while firms will be encouraged to have employees work from home or stagger their shifts.

The move comes after Osaka, which appeared to be containing the spread of the virus at the end of 2020, reported more than 3,800 new cases in the week through Monday. Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures have also reported record-high daily figures, putting a strain on the region’s medical system.

The occupancy rate of hospital beds for those suffering serious cases in Osaka has been hovering around 70 percent since December, with the prefecture logging a record 171 such patients earlier this month.

Aichi, which logged a record 696 people hospitalized for COVID-19, as well as Gifu, requested the central government on Tuesday to include them under its state of emergency declaration.

The government is expected to discuss the move at a meeting of a health ministry panel before explaining it to an advisory panel and reporting it to both houses of the Diet later in the day.

Ahead of the expected expansion of the state of emergency, Hyogo has requested restaurants and bars in parts of the prefecture to close by 9 p.m. Osaka and Kyoto have made similar moves.

A state of emergency declaration by the central government gives legal grounds for local authorities to urge people to stay home as much as possible and request or instruct restrictions on facility use. It also gives them the right to highlight publically the names of eateries that do not comply with a request to shorten operating hours.

A state of emergency was previously declared in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures in early April during Japan’s first wave of infections, and was expanded nationwide later that month. It was lifted in steps in May as the increase in numbers of new coronavirus infections slowed.