TOKYO (AP) – Japan extended a state of emergency over the coronavirus to seven other prefectures on Wednesday, affecting more than half the population amid a surge in infections in the country.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also noted that Japan will suspend expedited access exemptions for business visitors and other people with residence permits, totally prohibiting the arrival of foreign visitors while the state of emergency is in effect.
A few days ago Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby prefectures. The new declaration, which includes seven other prefectures in western and central Japan, takes effect on Thursday and runs until February 7.
“The tough situation continues, but these measures are essential to turn things around and for improvement,” Suga said at a press conference, bowing his head in an attempt to gain public understanding.
He said he put all seven prefectures in urban areas under a state of emergency to prevent infections from spilling over into smaller cities, where medical systems are more vulnerable.
The government has asked bars and restaurants in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Fukuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Tochigi prefectures to close at 8pm, that employers have 70% of their staff working from home and residents in the affected areas do not go out except for essential things.
Suga has been criticized for his slow reaction as coronavirus infections and deaths doubled in the past month to roughly 300,000 and 4,100 respectively. He declared both states of emergency only after local authorities requested it.
Experts have warned that even emergency declarations, which are not binding and rely mainly on voluntary cooperation, may be insufficient to significantly reduce infections.
Unlike an initial seven-week emergency that Japan adopted in April and May last year, schools, gyms, theaters and stores will remain open.
Suga has faced criticism for not applying sufficiently strong government measures previously during the pandemic. He mainly limited his interventions to asking the public to adopt basic safety measures such as the use of masks, hand washing and avoiding drinking and eating in groups until mid-December, when he finally announced the suspension of a government-funded internal tourism campaign. .
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