Japan Looks to Extend Tokyo Area Virus Emergency by Two Weeks

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the virus emergency in the Tokyo region now set to expire on March 7 may need to be extended for another two weeks, as he seeks to further rein in the pace of infections.

Suga told reporters Wednesday a final decision would be made after consulting with experts and local leaders. The announcement comes as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the leaders of the three most-populous prefectures adjacent to the capital were pressing for a two-week extension to stem infections that have fallen, but not as fast as some officials had hoped.

Japan Looks to Extend Tokyo Area Virus Emergency by Two Weeks

No date has been announced for the official decision on the measure in the Tokyo region that has already been in place for nearly two months, but local media has said the move could come as early as Friday.

“This is an extremely important time for preventing infections,” Suga told reporters, adding that there was a shortage of hospital beds in some areas. “I think an extension of about two weeks may be needed.”

Under the emergency, local governments have instructed bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m., and advised people to avoid going out unnecessarily. The measures, while limited, have helped much of the country bring infections under control, but have proved damaging for many retail and restaurant businesses.

Suga, who has often appeared to be at odds with Koike over virus policy, has tried to move the economy forward while keeping cases in check to appease a public that opinion surveys show sees him as being slow in imposing measures to stem infections.

Japan Looks to Extend Tokyo Area Virus Emergency by Two Weeks

Suga imposed a state of emergency for Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures in early January as cases hit a record high of 2,520 in the capital on Jan. 7. While cases have dropped since then -- falling to 121 on March 1, the lowest since November -- Koike cautioned on Tuesday that a recent slowing of the pace of decline cast doubt on the ability to lift the emergency.

The January virus emergency was later expanded to 11 regions that accounted for about 60% of the economy and included all major metro areas. By this week, only the Tokyo region was still on the list, underscoring progress against a Covid-19 surge that has battered the economy and Suga’s approval rating.

Japan Looks to Extend Tokyo Area Virus Emergency by Two Weeks

Prior to the emergency, Japan saw double-digit growth in the final quarter of 2020, indicating it may have potential for a relatively strong recovery once the emergency ends.

Japan, which is set to host the Olympics in Tokyo from July, has also posted the fewest confirmed Covid-19 infections of all the Group of Seven leading economies but has been a laggard in vaccinations, only beginning its program to administer shots in February.

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