The Japanese government on Tuesday extended the state of emergency covering Tokyo and other regions by one month to March 7, as hospitals remain under pressure despite declining coronavirus cases.
The state of emergency will remain in place in 10 prefectures including Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a meeting of the government's COVID-19 task force. Tochigi, north of the capital, will be the only prefecture to have the emergency lifted on Feb. 7 because its situation has significantly improved.
Under the state of emergency, people are urged to refrain from unnecessary outings while restaurants and bars are being asked to close early. Businesses are encouraged to adopt remote working and attendance at large events has been capped.
"Thanks to the measures and the cooperation of the Japanese people, we are beginning to see clear results," Suga said at a press conference. "We are asking you to hang on for a little longer so that we can firmly establish a downtrend in infections."
While the measures have been less strict than the previous state of emergency last spring, when schools were closed nationwide and some businesses were told to temporarily close, they have been somewhat successful in bringing down the number of infections.
Tokyo reported 393 coronavirus cases on Monday, the lowest figure in more than a month and down from the single-day peak of 2,447 marked when the current emergency was declared on Jan. 7.
Suga said the state of emergency will be lifted before March 7 in prefectures that see a significant improvement in several key indicators.
One benchmark for Tokyo's early exit would be daily new infections falling below 500, with other factors including the availability of hospital beds. On Tuesday, the capital reported an additional 556 cases.
Neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama as well as Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures will all remain under the state of emergency based on a special measures law aimed at containing infections. Okinawa, which was under consideration for inclusion due to outbreaks on some remote islands, was left off the list.
Suga, who has seen his public support dwindle amid criticism that his pandemic response has been sluggish, is scrambling to contain the coronavirus in time for this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Asked by a reporter whether the games could be held without spectators, the prime minister said ensuring a "safe and secure" event was the top priority, without elaborating.
Hospitals are struggling as the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition and deaths attributed to the disease remain near peak levels, with health experts warning it will take time before the situation improves.
The nationwide death toll for Tuesday was 119, the most in a single day yet. The number of coronavirus cases in the country was 2,324, with the health ministry putting the number of patients in serious condition at 937.
Japan is also behind other countries such as the United States in rolling out vaccines. Suga said the government would aim to begin inoculating health workers in mid-February, sooner than his previous target of late February.
Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday criticized Suga for failing to fulfill his pledge to rein in the virus by the state of emergency's initial Feb. 7 end date.
"We need a clear explanation from the prime minister why it couldn't be lifted in one month, and what measures the government plans to take over the next month," Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters.
Earlier in the day in parliament, Suga said he was sorry that four members of the ruling coalition had visited hostess bars in Tokyo's glitzy Ginza district despite the government's call for people to stay at home.
Suga declared a state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area on Jan. 7 and expanded it to the other prefectures on Jan. 13. Unlike other countries that have imposed hard lockdowns, Japan has no legal basis at the moment to punish rule breakers.
To add teeth to its measures, the government has proposed legislation introducing fines for COVID-19 patients refusing to be hospitalized as well as restaurants and bars ignoring orders to close early.
The revisions to the coronavirus special measures law and the infectious diseases law passed the House of Representatives on Monday and are expected to be enacted Wednesday following approval by the House of Councillors.
Jan. 9, 2020 -- Chinese state-run media reports novel coronavirus detected in patient.
Jan. 15 -- Japan confirms 1st coronavirus infection.
Jan. 30 -- World Health Organization declares global emergency.
Feb. 3 -- Diamond Princess cruise ship begins quarantine in Yokohama Port, group infection later confirmed among passengers, crew members.
Feb. 13 -- Japan confirms 1st COVID-19 death.
March 11 -- WHO declares spread of coronavirus to be pandemic.
March 13 -- Parliament enacts legislation enabling the government to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus.
March 24 -- 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed to 2021 due to pandemic.
April 7 -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declares state of emergency in Tokyo, six other prefectures.
April 16 -- State of emergency expanded to entire nation, domestic infections top 10,000.
May 14 -- Abe lifts state of emergency in 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures.
May 25 -- State of emergency fully lifted.
July 22 -- Government launches "Go To Travel" subsidy program to revive domestic tourism industry battered by coronavirus, excluding Tokyo.
Oct. 1 -- Tokyo added to "Go To Travel" subsidy program.
Dec. 14 -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announces halt of "Go To Travel" subsidy program during the New Year holidays.
Dec. 18 -- U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. applies for approval of coronavirus vaccine by Japan's health ministry.
Dec. 21 -- Domestic infections top 200,000.
Dec. 22 -- COVID-19 deaths in Japan top 3,000.
Jan. 4, 2021 -- Suga says vaccinations may start in Japan in late February.
Jan. 7 -- Suga declares state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures effective through Feb. 7.
Jan. 13 -- State of emergency expanded to seven more prefectures including Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka. Domestic infections top 300,000.
Feb. 2 -- State of emergency extended to March 7 in 10 prefectures. Declaration to be lifted in Tochigi Prefecture.