COVID quasi-emergency to cover 34 of Japan's 47 prefs. amid Omicron

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) attends a Cabinet meeting in his office in Tokyo on Jan. 25, 2022. (Kyodo)

Japan will decide Tuesday to expand a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency to 34 of the nation’s 47 prefectures with the addition of 18 more areas to stem the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Effective from Thursday to Feb. 20, the quasi-emergency is intended to reduce the strain on the health care system and prevent a shortage of essential workers that could result from a surge in infections and close contacts.

The governors of the 18 prefectures, including Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in the Kansai region in western Japan, will be able to request restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and stop or limit the serving of alcohol.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to make a final decision later in the day on the addition as well as on extending the quasi-emergency curbs that have been in place since Jan. 9 in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures beyond Jan. 31 to Feb. 20.

Japan has seen an acceleration in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures were among 13 areas added to the quasi-emergency last week.

The 18 areas include Hokkaido, Aomori, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Ishikawa, Nagano, Shizuoka, Shimane, Okayama, Saga, Oita, Kagoshima and Fukuoka.

Health experts say there is an increased risk of infection at social gatherings such as drinking parties. Kishida has said limiting people’s movements and the number who can dine together may be necessary as part of anti-virus steps.