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Osaka reports record infections, tougher virus steps eyed for Aichi

People walk under a signboard reminding the public to take coronavirus preventive measures in Osaka's Umeda area on April 13, 2021. (Kyodo)

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Daily coronavirus infections continued to rise in Osaka Prefecture and topped 1,000 for the first time on Tuesday, while the Japanese government plans to add Aichi Prefecture to the list of areas requiring tougher restrictions to fight COVID-19, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

    The quasi-state of emergency, already in place in six areas, including Osaka and Tokyo, is likely to entail asking restaurants and bars in Aichi to close early.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga could make a decision within the week, with three prefectures neighboring the capital -- Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama -- also under consideration, the sources said, adding his upcoming trip to the United States could push the decision back to next week.

    The Aichi prefectural government reported 168 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. Gov. Hideaki Omura told a press conference he will ask the central government for the authority to impose the tougher restrictions ahead of the Golden Week holidays starting in late April.

    Japan is fighting what some health experts have called a "fourth wave" of infections, with Osaka and the wider Kansai area, in particular, seeing a surge in the number of people infected with highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

    Daily coronavirus cases in Osaka reached 1,099 on Tuesday, topping the previous high of 918 logged on Saturday, with eight deaths.

    The rapid rebound in infections has put a renewed strain on the prefecture's health care system, with over 90 percent of hospital beds for patients suffering serious COVID-19 cases occupied.

    "It is an extremely severe situation," Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told a press conference.

    Yoshimura said he will consider asking the central government to declare a state of emergency in his prefecture after assessing the change in the situation through next week.

    The declaration of a state of emergency would let prefectural governments impose even stricter measures, including requesting restaurants and bars to halt operations.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference in Tokyo the central government is aware of Osaka's health care system's "very difficult situation."

    Osaka, along with Tokyo and some other areas, recently imposed tougher measures to control the virus's spread, including asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m.

    The stepped-up measures began in Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa on Monday, following the designation a week earlier for Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures.

    The countermeasures will last through May 11 for Tokyo and May 5 for all the other areas.

    The Tokyo metropolitan government reported Tuesday 510 new daily infections, bringing its cumulative total to 126,794, by far the highest among Japan's 47 prefectures.

    The western prefecture of Hyogo bordering Osaka on the same day logged a record 391 new cases, witnessing a rapid increase in cases in recent days.

    Osaka on Tuesday held a torch relay for this summer's Tokyo Olympics, but in a reduced format due to a sharp rebound in coronavirus infections. Torchbearers ran laps in an empty park after the flame relay was rerouted from public roads.

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