As Covid-19 surges throughout Japan, Osaka and other regions weigh emergency measures

TOKYO – The leaders of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan said on Thursday (Jan 7) that they saw a need for a state of emergency amid rising Covid-19 numbers.

All three prefectures busted their one-day tally on Thursday, with 607 cases in Osaka, 284 in Hyogo, where the city of Kobe is located, and 143 in Kyoto.

“There are clear signs that infections are spreading. We must take the initiative rather than just hope for the best,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters.

He added that a joint request with neighbouring Kyoto and Hyogo for an emergency declaration may be made to the national government by Saturday.

But Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Thursday that he “did not think the situation now warrants any emergency”, though he added that he would carefully consider any request in consultation with experts.

What will compound Mr Suga’s headache in the coming days is the fact that cases are surging nationwide. At least 19 out of Japan’s 47 prefectures recorded new daily highs on Thursday as the country set a new high of at least 7,490 new infections.

Aichi, where Nagoya is situated, reset its one-day high for the second straight day with 431 cases. Governor Hideaki Omura said if the situation worsens, he will ask for an emergency declaration with neighbouring Gifu prefecture.

Others are skipping the bureaucracy involved and taking matters into their own hands. Ibaraki, with a new high of 90 cases, has asked residents to avoid non-essential outings and is offering payouts to eateries and bars that close by 10pm.

At least two municipalities – the south-western prefecture of Miyazaki and the city of Utsunomiya in Tochigi prefecture – have issued their own emergency declaration. While they have no binding effect, leaders say they had to send a strong signal to their residents.

Utsunomiya Mayor Eiichi Sato, in declaring the emergency on Wednesday, cited the growing strain on hospitals after the city saw 62.1 cases for every 100,000 people in the past week. By this metric, it is more serious than in Tokyo, which had 53.8 cases for every 100,000 people.

Miyazaki Governor Shunji Kono, meanwhile, said that his prefecture was facing a “historic crisis” as it set a new one-day high of 105 cases on Thursday. He said: “While we have sought to balance infection risk with socioeconomic activities, it is time to step on the brakes.”

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