The Japanese government plans to extend the state of emergency covering Tokyo and other regions struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks by one month until March 7, an official with knowledge of the situation said Monday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he will make a final decision on the extension after hearing from an expert panel on Tuesday.
"Coronavirus cases are declining, but we must remain vigilant for a while longer," he told reporters after meeting with members of his Cabinet including Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 response, and health minister Norihisa Tamura.
According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures will remain under the state of emergency, as will Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka.
Tochigi, lying to the north of Tokyo, will be removed because its coronavirus situation has significantly improved. Okinawa, which was under consideration to be added due to outbreaks on remote islands, will be left off the list, the official said.
Tokyo reported 393 new coronavirus infections on Monday, the lowest daily figure in more than a month and down sharply from the 633 reported Sunday. The nationwide tally was around 1,790, with 80 attributed deaths.
Figures tend to be lower immediately after the weekend, when fewer hospitals and clinics are open to administer tests.
"Looking at the situation from region to region, the number of infections is still high and the medical system continues to be strained," said Shigeru Omi, the doctor chairing the government's coronavirus subcommittee.
Nishimura said if the decision is made to extend the state of emergency, prefectures that see their situation improve before the new end date could be taken off the list early.
"Considering the impact on the economy, on businesses, we are looking to keep the measures to a minimum," he said during a committee meeting in the House of Representatives.
Suga is scrambling to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 5,700 and infected nearly 400,000 in Japan, with his public support rate dwindling and the clock ticking down to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer.
The government is preparing to begin vaccinations later this month, with health workers to go first followed by people aged 65 and older.
Under the state of emergency, the government has urged people to stay at home as much as possible and asked bars and restaurants to close early. Companies are being encouraged to adopt remote working, while attendance at large events is being capped.
But Japan currently does not enforce the rules unlike other countries that have imposed serious penalties. Some bars and restaurants, already hit hard by the pandemic, have ignored the request to avoid losing more customers.
In an effort to fix the situation, the government has proposed legislation introducing fines for breaking the rules.
The lower house passed the set of bills on Monday after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Suga, yielded to opposition demands for the withdrawal of a proposal for one-year prison sentences for patients refusing to be hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The legislation is expected to be enacted Wednesday following passage by the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of parliament.
A revision to the infectious disease law would introduce fines of up to 500,000 yen ($4,770) for COVID-19 patients resisting hospitalization and 300,000 yen for those who fail to participate in epidemiological surveys by health authorities.
Another revision to the coronavirus special measures law calls for fines of up to 300,000 yen for restaurants and bars that do not cooperate with orders to shorten their operating hours under a state of emergency and up to 200,000 yen for those not cooperating in a precursor situation categorized as just below a state of emergency.
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