Japan to expand COVID-19 state of emergency to 8 more prefectures

Aug 25 , 2021. 2 hours ago – 07:37 KYODO NEWS

TOKYO – The Japanese government is set to decide 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, according to government and ruling party sources.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to formalize the decision at a task force meeting later in the day after getting approval from a panel of experts in infectious diseases and other fields.

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 Tokyo began hosting the Paralympics, 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 covering 16 prefecture to another four — Kochi, Saga, Nagasaki and Miyazaki — allowing governors to place restrictions on specific areas rather than entire prefectures.

The capital reported 4,220 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, while the nationwide figure stood at 21,569, about three times the peak of the previous wave in April and May.

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

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.