Japan to extend COVID-19 emergency again, set road map to lift curbs

© Kyodo News

The Japanese government is set to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency again for Tokyo and many other areas Thursday, as hospitals remain under strain despite a falling number of infections, while charting a road map for easing restrictions for when most of the population is vaccinated.

The state of emergency had been slated to end Sunday but will remain in place through Sept. 30 for 19 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Aichi, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to make a formal decision at a task force meeting in the evening before holding his first press conference since abruptly announcing his resignation last week amid mounting criticism over his government's coronavirus response.

Under the emergency, which has been in place in Tokyo since July 12 and extended twice, people are being urged to avoid crowded areas while restaurants are asked to refrain from serving alcohol and to close by 8 p.m.

Infections nationwide surged to more than 25,000 a day in mid-August but have since fallen by about half, although hospitals continue to struggle to deal with the large number of patients with serious symptoms of COVID-19.

At present, people in areas under a state of emergency are asked by the government to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders or staging large events such as concerts and sports games with more than 5,000 spectators.

The government's road map is set to drop these requests from around November, with people able to attend large events if they have been fully vaccinated or provide negative test results.

Restaurants will also be no longer asked to forgo selling alcohol as long as they are certified to have measures in place to prevent infections.

Just under half of Japan's population has received two shots of the vaccine, with Suga promising to finish administering shots to everyone eligible and willing sometime between October and November.

The government has apparently decided that this would be the right time to ease restrictions that have hurt businesses, especially in the food services and tourism sectors, though health experts continue to voice concerns over the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Among the 21 prefectures currently under the state of emergency, Miyagi and Okayama will shift to a quasi-state of emergency, which allows governors to impose measures on specific cities rather than their entire prefectures.

The quasi-state of emergency currently covers 12 prefectures, six of which -- Toyama, Yamanashi, Ehime, Kochi, Saga and Nagasaki -- are set to exit as they have seen a drop in the number of infections.