Japan state of emergency to expand beyond Tokyo

SUGA: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga holds a New Year's press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on Jan. 4, 2021. Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool via Reuters

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a meeting of ruling party executives on Tuesday he would declare a state of emergency for the three western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo to stem the spread of COVID-19, Kyodo news reported.

Responding to pressure from Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures in eastern Japan, Suga last week declared a one-month state of emergency for that region until Feb. 7.

But the number of coronavirus cases has also climbed in the west, prompting the three prefectures to seek a state of emergency too. The government is finalizing plans to declare an emergency there on Wednesday, and could also consider adding the central prefectures of Aichi – home to Toyota Motor Corp. – and Gifu, Kyodo reported, citing government sources.

Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, did not confirm the report, saying only that the government would "swiftly" consider the measures for the Osaka area.

Under Japanese law, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency, which gives local authorities legal basis to ask residents and businesses to restrict movements and work.

Suga has been criticized for what many said was a slow, confusing and piecemeal response to the pandemic as coronavirus infections hover near record highs.

Daily coronavirus cases hit a record 7,882 last Friday, bringing the total to nearly 300,000, according to public broadcaster NHK.

In an effort to help the struggling services sector, the government had previously encouraged citizens to travel domestically and dine out by offering generous subsidies, only to hit pause on the program late last year as COVID-19 cases soared. Now, it is asking residents of the Tokyo area to stay in as much as possible and bars and restaurants to close by 8 p.m.

In a Kyodo News survey published on Sunday, about 79% said Suga's decision to call the state of emergency for Tokyo came too late. About 80% said this year's Tokyo Olympics should be canceled or delayed.

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