The Japanese government on Friday designated Tokyo and Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures as requiring stronger measures to fight COVID-19 amid a resurgence in infections, less than three weeks after fully lifting a state of emergency.
With less than four months to go before Tokyo stages the Olympics, the capital reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases for a third day in a row, its worst streak since early February.
The stronger prevention measures under a quasi-state of emergency include asking restaurants and bars in densely populated areas to close by 8 p.m. and capping attendance at large events at 5,000. They will come into effect Monday and last through May 5 for Kyoto and Okinawa, and May 11 for Tokyo.
The countermeasures, which carry a smaller fine for businesses that ignore orders to shorten operating hours, are already in effect in Osaka and neighboring Hyogo as well as Miyagi in Japan's northeast, also set to run through May 5.
"We will prevent local outbreaks from turning into a nationwide one by taking targeted steps quickly and in a focused manner," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said after announcing the decision at a COVID-19 task force meeting.
Suga called on people to refrain from nonessential travel between prefectures, expressing concern that highly contagious variants of the virus could spread during the Golden Week holidays from late April through early May, one of the busiest periods for travel.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike had asked the government to grant her the authority to take tougher measures as infections have crept up since the state of emergency ended on March 21.
The capital saw 555 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the most since early February during the tail end of the third wave of infections, with 545 on Thursday and 537 on Friday.
Koike had voiced concern the capital could go the way of Osaka, which was quicker to ease restrictions and has since seen infections soar to record highs, with 905 confirmed Thursday.
Such a surge could threaten the Tokyo Olympics, which are set to kick off on July 23 after being postponed by one year due to the pandemic. Public support for the Summer Games remains low, with only 23.2 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News poll last month saying they should go ahead as scheduled.
Suga is also under pressure to bring down infections ahead of a general election to be held by October. He has said he will not dissolve the House of Representatives for an election until COVID-19 is brought under control.
The nationwide tally topped 3,000 for the third day in a row, bringing the cumulative total since the start of the pandemic early last year to over half a million.
Three prefectures neighboring Tokyo -- Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama -- could be added later if the situation worsens, said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government's COVID-19 response.
The government introduced the quasi-state of emergency through a legal revision in February as a way to take targeted steps to bring down infections while keeping the economy going as much as possible. Governors can now designate cities and towns for stricter measures, unlike a full-fledged emergency, which covers entire prefectures.
Nishimura said Tokyo's 23 central wards and six other areas of the capital, including Hachioji and Machida, the city of Kyoto as well as Naha and eight other cities in Okinawa are expected to be subject to the tougher restrictions.