Japan to further expand viral emergency zones as cases rise | Politics

TOKYO (AP) – Japan was set to extend its coronavirus state of emergency for a second week in a row on Wednesday, adding several more prefectures as an increase in infections fueled by the delta variant strains the country’s health system.

Last week, the government extended the state of emergency until September 12 and extended the areas covered to 13 prefectures, including six, including Tokyo. Sixteen other prefectures are currently under quasi-emergency status.

The government, at an expert meeting on Wednesday, proposed upgrading eight prefectures from near-emergency status to a full state of emergency. These prefectures include Hokkaido and Miyagi in the north, Aichi and Gifu in central Japan, and Hiroshima and Okayama in the west.

The proposal was due to be approved and officially announced later Wednesday.

Japan’s state of emergency is based on requiring restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly challenged. Inapplicable social distancing and telecommuting demands for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency.

The Japanese capital has been in a state of emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have more than increased tenfold since, reaching around 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospital beds fill up quickly and many people now have to recuperate at home, including some who need extra oxygen.

More than 35,000 patients in Tokyo are recovering at home, about a third of whom could not immediately find a vacant hospital or hotel. According to experts, only a small percentage of hospitals welcome patients infected with the virus, either for financial reasons or because they lack the capacity to treat infections.

Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries, with around 15,600 deaths in the country since the start, but its vaccination efforts have lagged behind other wealthy countries. About 40% of the population has been fully immunized, mostly older people.

Economy and Fiscal Policy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of COVID-19 measures, said on Wednesday that infections are spreading among people in their 20s to 50s who are largely unvaccinated. He urged them to be extra careful.

“Just imagine that maybe you are the one who gets infected tomorrow,” he said.

Rising infections among schoolchildren and teens could accelerate the outbreak as they start returning to school after summer break, said Dr Shigeru Omi, the government’s senior medical adviser. He suggested schools cut back on activities and urged high schools and colleges to return to online classes.

“Infections in Tokyo show no signs of slowing down, and extremely tight medical systems will continue for some time,” he said in a parliamentary session on Wednesday.

The government has come under fire for hosting the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer despite strong public opposition. Officials deny any direct link between the games and the spike in infections.

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