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Japan to impose fresh COVID-19 emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on April 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government plans to impose a fresh coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures soon as infections surge with just three months until the Tokyo Olympics, sources with knowledge of the plans said Wednesday.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he will make a formal decision in a matter of days on what would be the third emergency declaration of the pandemic.

    Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido told a press conference he has asked the government for the authority to impose tougher restrictions to curb the rise in infections, following Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura's request the previous day. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is expected to do the same soon.

    "Considering the request by Osaka Prefecture, we would like to swiftly reach a conclusion after thoroughly assessing the situation and studying the contents of the measures," Suga said at a Diet session before meeting with members of his Cabinet including health minister Norihisa Tamura and Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's coronavirus response.

    Yoshimura said he plans to ask restaurants and bars to close on weekends as well as refrain from serving alcohol altogether, along with seeking the temporary closure of major leisure facilities. Such measures would be stronger than his current request for eateries in central Osaka to close by 8 p.m.

    Koike is also in discussions with the government to ask facilities including amusement parks and department stores to temporarily close.

    Nishimura described the situation in Osaka as "extremely severe," saying at a parliamentary committee, "We have to implement stronger measures in a concentrated manner."

    Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who chairs a government subcommittee on virus countermeasures, said at a separate committee that an emergency must be declared "as soon as possible, taking into account the virus variants."

    According to an analysis by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel of experts, more contagious coronavirus variants account for about 80 percent of infections in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan and a rapidly growing share of cases in Tokyo as well.

    Despite taking stricter virus measures under quasi-emergency steps in place since April 5, the seven-day rolling average of infections through Tuesday rose to a record 453.3 per day in Hyogo, with the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients climbing to a record 689.

    Ido earlier said the current measures in his prefecture, including asking restaurants in Kobe to close by 8 p.m., have not achieved sufficient results.

    The prefecture alone cannot provide enough financial support to businesses complying with requests to suspend operations, Ido said, suggesting he will carefully select which businesses to target and request assistance from the government.

    The latest state of emergency would come just a little over a month since the previous one was lifted in Tokyo and the surrounding area.

    Suga has said a fresh declaration would not affect the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, reiterating that the government will continue efforts to stage a "safe and secure" games.

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