Japan to extend COVID-19 state of emergency to June 20

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga arrives at his office in Tokyo on May 28, 2021. (Kyodo)

The Japanese government is set Friday to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo and eight other prefectures for three weeks until June 20 — just over a month before the Olympics begin in the capital.

Restrictions such as a ban on restaurants serving alcohol and requiring them to close by 8 p.m. as well as a cap on attendance at sports events and concerts will stay in effect in Tokyo as well as Hokkaido, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka beyond May 31.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to formalize the decision at a task force meeting in the evening before holding a press conference to explain the move.

Okinawa, the 10th and most recent addition to the state of emergency, is already set to remain under the measure until June 20.

Infections are declining in some of the areas but “on the whole, the situation is highly unpredictable,” Suga told reporters Thursday after consulting with members of his Cabinet including health minister Norihisa Tamura and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response.

Prefectural leaders had been calling on the government to extend the emergency, with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike calling for an additional month.

Infections in the capital, where tens of thousands of athletes, officials and journalists are slated to visit for the Olympics, due to start on July 23, have been slow to decline despite Koike taking the extra step of asking department stores and movie theaters to remain closed.

Hospitals in Osaka and neighboring Hyogo continue to struggle to free up beds for COVID-19 patients, while coronavirus cases in Okinawa, a popular resort area, are rising sharply following an influx of tourists during the Golden Week holidays.

Concerns are also growing about the highly contagious Indian variant of the virus, which health experts warn could quickly become the dominant strain in Japan.

Meanwhile, the country’s vaccination program has lagged far behind other developed nations, with just 6 percent of its population having received at least one dose amid a shortage of doctors and nurses to administer shots.

The state of emergency has been in place in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo since April 25 with an initial deadline of May 11. Aichi and Fukuoka joined on May 12, followed by Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima on May 16 and Okinawa on May 23.

The government is also set to extend the quasi-emergency expiring at the end of May in five prefectures — Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu and Mie — to June 20.

The measure entails similar restrictions to the state of emergency but with smaller penalties, and allows governors to single out municipalities rather than covering entire prefectures.

The June 13 deadline for the quasi-emergency in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto is set to remain intact.