Japan will extend the state of emergency to three more prefectures due to the continued spread of COVID-19, which has taken the figures in some regions to record levels ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
The prefectures of Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima will be included from Sunday until May 31, when the state of emergency in force in six other areas of the country – Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi and Fukuoka – is scheduled to end, coronavirus response minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will formalise a statement later in the day, after a meeting of the panel of experts that advises the government on the pandemic.
“It will be difficult to improve the situation unless we take the strongest measures possible,” said Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member at the Japan Medical Association who sits on the expert panel, according to Kyodo News.
COVID cases have increased throughout the archipelago in recent weeks and the number of critically ill patients in need of respiratory assistance is at a high of 1214, amid reports of deaths of people at home awaiting hospitalisation due to the lack of beds.
The spread of more contagious strains and the slow vaccination campaign are making the situation worse.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the number of infections has not decreased as expected and has asked experts to analyse the situation, especially in Tokyo, in case additional measures are necessary.
Japan’s state of emergency does not entail lockdowns or curfews, although residents are urged to work from home and avoid non-essential movement.
The health alert entails certain restrictions for bars and restaurants, which have been asked not to serve alcohol and close at 8pm.
The authorities also urge large stores to reduce their business hours or temporarily close, and concerts and sporting events to limit attendance to 5000 people.