Japan’s Suga to Decide Friday on Tokyo Virus Emergency Extension

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would decide Friday on extending a state of emergency for Tokyo and three other regions, as he tries to stem a surge in Covid-19 infections ahead of the capital hosting the Olympics from July.

Suga told reporters Thursday he would first consult an expert panel on details including the length of time and the regions to be covered. He was speaking after local leaders called for restrictions to stay in place as infections are putting strains on some medical systems.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters earlier in the day the extension was needed, adding she would propose keeping the restrictions in place until the end of May. Three prefectures surrounding the capital will also seek to retain some restrictions.

The state of emergency that took effect from April 25 covered Tokyo and the western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo. It had been scheduled to end May 11.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, who has overseen record daily case numbers in the prefecture in recent weeks, also said he had no option but to call for an extension. Kyodo News cited officials as saying that the state of emergency for Tokyo and the three regions could be extended by about two weeks or a month.

Japan’s third state of emergency came amid a surge in cases that was putting pressure on the health care system in areas that make up about a quarter of the country’s population. While economists have expressed fears it could drag on consumption, virus cases have not fallen substantially since it came into effect.

Under emergency regulations, bars and restaurants were banned from selling alcohol and fans were excluded from major sporting events.

“The number of infections hasn’t turned downward, and neither has the number of serious cases,” Koike told reporters, speaking on the current emergency state. “Even taking into account the time lag, we can’t predict what will happen.”

While opinion polls have shown the majority of Japanese voters want the Olympics postponed or canceled, Suga has repeatedly said he wants to press ahead with the event, which is set to open July 23. A visit by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that had been planned for later this month, however, will be reviewed and could be canceled if the emergency is extended, broadcaster TV Asahi said, citing an Organizing Committee source.

Japan has contained virus infections relatively well by comparison with the U.S. and much of Europe, but its vaccine rollout has been slow, meaning the government has few tools at its disposal to control the pandemic. Although businesses can be fined for disobeying emergency regulations, there are no penalties for individuals.

While Suga thanked the public for restricting travel during the Golden Week series of public holidays that has just ended, public broadcaster NHK said mobile phone data indicated that the number of people going out was more than twice that seen during Japan’s first state of emergency last year.

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