Japan says to seek 'short, powerful' state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo amid Covid-19 surge

TOKYO (REUTERS) – The Japanese government is seeking a “short and powerful” state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and two other prefectures, a Cabinet minister said on Friday (April 23), as Japan struggles to contain a resurgent pandemic just three months ahead of the Olympics.

Under a new state of emergency for April 25 to May 11, the government would ask restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol to close, and big sporting events to be held without spectators, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said.

“We absolutely have to limit the movement of people, and we have to do it decisively,” said Nishimura, speaking at the start of a meeting with a panel of experts to discuss the proposed measures.

“We need powerful, short and focused measures,” he said, asking people to “remember last spring and stay home”.

Department stores and other retailers larger than 1,000 square metres would also be asked to close and companies to make greater allowances for people to work-from-home.

The state of emergency, which would also include Kyoto and Hyogo and last through Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays, are expected to be formally approved later on Friday. The four prefectures account for nearly a quarter of Japan’s population.

Japan has so far avoided an explosive spread of the pandemic that has plagued many countries. There have been a total of about 550,000 cases and 9,761 deaths.

But the latest rise in infections has stoked alarm with an explosive surge in the mutant variant and a critical shortage of hospital beds in some regions, while Japan’s vaccination drive remains sluggish.

Tokyo reported 861 new cases on Thursday, the most since Jan 29, which was during the third wave of the pandemic and a previous state of emergency. Osaka prefecture reported 1,167, down slightly from a record.

Several other prefectures remain in a “quasi-emergency” state of targeted infection controls, and Nishimura said the duration would also be extended to May 11 for some.

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