Japan's PM extends state of emergency over COVID-19 pandemic
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday extended the state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic in struggling regions for one month to March 7.
Among the 11 of Japan's 47 prefectures currently covered by the state of emergency, Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures will remain under the declaration, as well as Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures, Suga said at a meeting of the government's COVID-19 task force.
Meanwhile, Tochigi Prefecture, located to the capital's north, will be removed from the emergency list as COVID-19 cases have eased in the area.
The southern island prefecture of Okinawa, which has been under consideration to be added due to outbreaks on remote islands, is left off the list.
The state of emergency, first declared by the Japanese leader in January for the Greater Tokyo Area as well as some other major urban areas that are densely populated including Osaka, was originally scheduled to end on February 7.
Since the state of emergency was declared, people have been more ardently requested to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors and to work from home.
Bars and restaurants in particular have also been asked to shorten their operating hours and close their doors by 8pm local time.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the country's coronavirus response, has said that prefectures that see their situation improve before the new end date could be taken off the emergency list early.
"Considering the impact on the economy, on businesses, we are looking to keep the measures to a minimum," he said at a committee meeting in the House of Representatives on Monday.
The Japanese government is scrambling to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, set to kick off in less than six months.
While new cases of infections have dropped under the state of emergency, hospitals remain under pressure and there have been cases of COVID-19 patients not being admitted to hospitals and later dying at home.
In Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan's coronavirus outbreak, 556 new cases were reported on Tuesday, below the 1,000 mark for the fifth straight day, with the cumulative total reaching 100,790, the highest among the country's 47 prefectures.
According to Nishimura, daily new infections falling below 500 is one benchmark for lifting the state of emergency in the capital, though other factors including availability of hospital beds would also be taken into account.
The numbers of COVID-19 patients in serious condition and deaths attributed to the disease are still near the peak in Tokyo, with health experts warning that the situation will take some time to improve.
A state of emergency was previously declared in Tokyo and six other prefectures on April 7 last year. It was later expanded to cover the whole country before being lifted in late May.