COVID-19: Japan to expand state of emergency

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The Japanese government has said on  it would expand a state of emergency it declared for the Tokyo area last week to seven more prefectures, as the public’s hopes for the Summer Olympics fade with the steady spread of COVID-19.

The move comes after the governors of Osaka, Kyoto and other hard-hit prefectures requested the government announce the emergency, which gives local authorities the legal basis to place restrictions on residents’ movements and businesses.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been wary about taking measures that would hamper economic activity, while he has put on a brave face against the mounting challenges of hosting the delayed Olympics in Tokyo this year.

Japan’s coronavirus cases topped 300,000 on Wednesday, while the death toll reached 4,187, public broadcaster NHK said.

As infections hover at record levels in a third wave in Japan, opinion polls have shown a public increasingly opposed to holding the Summer Games this year – and growing frustration with Suga.

Suga is expected to announce the expanded state of emergency to include Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Fukuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Tochigi prefectures from Thursday at a 7 p.m. (1000 GMT) news conference.

“Unless we rein in infections in big cities, we can’t stop the spread nationally,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said at a meeting with an advisory panel, which approved the plan on Wednesday.

The latest emergency declaration covering 55% of Japan’s population of 126 million is set to last through Feb. 7 and is much narrower in scope than the first one last spring. It focuses on combating transmission in bars and restaurants, while urging people to stay home as much as possible.

The government will also suspend an entry-ban exemption for business travellers from 11 countries and regions during the state of emergency, the Nikkei business daily reported.

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