People wearing protective masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus are walking in Tokyo on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 840 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)
The Japanese government is preparing to announce a third state of emergency in Tokyo and the western metropolitan area surrounding Osaka after local leaders demanded that current measures fail to contain a rapid surge in coronavirus infections.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and key ministers met late Wednesday to discuss details before deciding on the state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and neighbors Kyoto and Hyogo, expected later this week.
Osaka, the hardest hit area of the recent upswing from March, reported 1,242 new cases on Wednesday, a new high for the prefecture that surpassed Tokyo’s 843.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said Tuesday the current focus on shorter opening hours in bars and restaurants was ineffective and called for a state of emergency that would allow him to enact stricter measures, including instructions to shut down businesses.
Kyoto and Hyogo filed another emergency on Wednesday, and Tokyo is expected to follow suit.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is reportedly aiming for an emergency period covering Japan’s annual “Golden Week” from late April to early May to keep people from traveling.
The current alert began in Osaka on April 5 and has since expanded to 10 areas including Tokyo by early May. The call for a state of emergency underscores the failure of steps that Suga’s government has promoted as an alternative to an emergency with less economic damage.
A woman wearing a protective mask to contain the spread of the coronavirus is walking in a park in Tokyo on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 840 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)
Suga told reporters that he would make a decision by the end of the week.
Medical experts urged Suga, who has already been criticized for reacting slowly to previous waves of infection, to quickly switch to a state of emergency.
“Time is limited,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, head of a government task force, at a session of parliament. “Obviously, people are not reacting to the ongoing measures.”
Current alerting measures allow prefectural leaders, bars and restaurants in certain areas to issue binding instructions in exchange for reduced working hours, with penalties for violations.
A new state of emergency following a law tightened in February would allow authorities to order companies to close and take other steps. Measures for the general public, including wearing masks and staying at home, remain non-binding requests.
A man wearing a protective mask to contain the spread of the coronavirus walks through a park in Tokyo on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 840 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)
People wearing protective masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus will walk along a pedestrian crossing in Tokyo on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 840 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)
Nationwide, Japan recorded 541,496 cases on Tuesday, including 9,710 deaths – results that are good by global standards but worse than some other Asian countries – with no enforced lockdowns. But people are becoming impatient and less cooperative with virus interventions.
Japan’s vaccination campaign is lagging behind many countries as imported vaccines are in short supply while attempts to develop their own vaccines are still in the early stages.
Local media reported on Wednesday that Japan will sign an agreement with Pfizer Inc. to deliver 50 million doses of vaccine to Japan by September, in addition to the 144 million doses they have already contracted. That, combined with an existing 50 million doses contract from Moderna Inc., would be enough to cover Japan’s adult population amid uncertainty over the rare blood clotting problem of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
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