Japan extends coronavirus state of emergency as infections rise

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The country reported 4,527 new cases and 51 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the national total to nearly 300,000, with a death toll of 4,158. More than 61,500 patients are hospitalized across the country, who are struggling to cope with a spike in cases caused in part by freezing winter temperatures.

Tokyo, which was previously among the worst-affected regions, reported 970 new cases on Tuesday, the first time the Japanese capital’s daily tally has fallen below 1,000 in more than a week. The total number of confirmed cases in Tokyo now stands at 77,133.

A state of emergency had already been declared for Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa last week, to be in place until February 7.

The new announcement extends the order to Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi and Fukuoka, covering much of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Eleven prefectures in total are currently subject to emergency measures.

The state of emergency orders companies to encourage their staff to work from home and reduce the office population by 70%. Residents of affected areas are also urged to avoid non-essential outings, and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 7 p.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Sports and entertainment events in Japan are also requested to limit the number of participants.

Suga asked for the public’s cooperation after announcing the expanded measures on Wednesday.

“I hope people will understand that this is a necessary step to improve this difficult situation. We will do whatever we need to do. I apologize for the inconvenience caused in your life with many restrictions, but we have to overcome this, ”he said at a press conference.

“I would like to ask for the cooperation of the people. ”

However, unlike a number of other countries that have introduced lockdowns and social distancing measures, Japan lacks a lot of legal powers to force compliance with government orders. The country is also grappling with coronavirus fatigue, having been among the first to be affected by the pandemic, and mixed messages in recent months.

“Japan’s response is too slow and confusing, which reflects the lack of leadership and strategy. On the one hand, they encouraged domestic travel and dining out, on the other hand, they just asked people to be careful, ”Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London , said earlier this month. “The government basically asks people to behave properly, but doesn’t do more than that. ”

Speaking after the Tokyo emergency order, Satoshi Kamayachi, a doctor and a member of the government’s expert advisory board, told CNN affiliate TV Asahi that “the time was not sufficient for to curb the outbreak of infection, we must further reduce human contact ”.

Japanese officials are believed to be reluctant to introduce a full lockdown or other stricter emergency measures for fear of hurting the economy. The country is also once again facing difficult decisions around OIympiques, which were due to take place last summer but were ultimately postponed as the pandemic spread around the world.

The Tokyo Games are scheduled this summer from July 23 to August 8, according to the International Olympic Committee, with clean opening and closing ceremonies as part of a “global simplification of the Games”.

Last week, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said it would postpone upcoming Tokyo Olympics torch exhibits “to reduce the flow of people and prevent the spread of Covid-19.” The torch had been on display in several municipalities from November and was due to restart this week.

In a New Year’s address to the staff of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee this week, President Yoshiro Mori said preparations would go “as planned”, adding that “I think everything would be affected if I scratched my head. or if I showed any indecision ”.

“We will come out of this dark tunnel in cooperation with you. I would like you all to do your best until the end to bring joy and hope to many people in the belief that spring comes after winter and morning always comes after a long night ”, Mori said.

Japan is grappling with coronavirus fatigue, having been among the first to be affected by the pandemic, and mixed messages in recent months.

A recent poll by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK found that 77% of respondents believed the Games should be postponed again or canceled altogether, with just 16% in favor of hosting them this year.

Speaking to CNN, former senior International Olympic Committee official Dick Pound said it was unlikely the Games could be postponed again, so any further delay would likely result in their cancellation.

“The one-year postponement was a proposal from Japan, the organizing committee said ‘look, we can hold this together for another year, but no more,’” he said. “Postponing another year, for example, will have a huge cost, which Japan may not be prepared to shoulder. This will further complicate a busy sporting calendar… you are going to have the World Cup and football going on. , and at one point, it’s just that there is too much congestion in the whole system. ”

He rejected the suggestion that the Tokyo Olympics could be postponed to 2024, and all planned host cities moved forward in turn, as they came from people “with no conception of what that (plan) means in life. real ”.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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