Japan widens COVID-19 emergency for 7 more areas as cases surge

Japan widens COVID-19 emergency for 7 more areas as cases surge

Prime Minister Yoshide Suga also said Japan will suspend fast-track business entry permits, fully banning foreign visitors while the state of emergency is in place.

Suga's announcement comes less than a week after he declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby prefectures. The new declaration, which adds seven other prefectures in western and central Japan, takes effect Thursday and lasts until Feb 7.

The government is asking bars and restaurants in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Fukuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Tochigi prefectures to close by 8pm, employers to have 70 per cent of their staff work from home and residents in the affected areas avoid going out for nonessential purposes.

Suga has been criticized as being to slow to act as the country’s number of reported coronavirus infections and deaths roughly doubled over the past month to about 300,000 and 4,100. Both states of emergency were declared only after local leaders had pleaded with him to do so.

Experts have warned that even the state of emergency measures, which are non-binding and largely rely on voluntary cooperation, may be insufficient to significantly slow the infections.

Unlike the earlier seven-week emergency Japan had in April and May last year, schools, gyms, theaters and shops will stay open.

Suga has faced criticism for not taking strong enough government action earlier in the outbreak. He mostly limited his interventions to asking the public to take basic safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding drinking and dining in groups until mid-December, when he finally announced the suspension of a government-subsidized tourism campaign.

Suga eventually took action after calls from the local leaders, while his support ratings nosedived in polls showing the public increasingly dissatisfied with his handling of the virus.

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