Japan is eyeing an extension to the COVID-19 state of emergency currently in effect in Tokyo and a number of western Japan prefectures beyond its May 11 end date, with a final decision to be made on Friday, government sources said Wednesday, amid a resurgence of the virus.
Following a meeting with ministers involved in the government's coronavirus response, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government will seek health experts' opinions before making the decision.
"The emergency declaration's impact had started to show as the number of people moving around has undoubtedly decreased," he added.
Suga last month declared a fresh state of emergency in Tokyo and the western prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto, effective from April 25 through May 11 amid a fourth wave of infections.
Under the third state of emergency, authorities have imposed stricter anti-virus measures including requiring restaurants serving alcohol and large shopping facilities to close.
According to the sources, proposals include extending the emergency declaration for another two weeks or up to a month.
The central government is also considering reviewing its request for department stores and other large commercial facilities to close, and possibly lifting the declaration in Tokyo.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura had indicated on Tuesday that he would ask the central government to extend the current state of emergency in the western Japan metropolis as the number of infections has not shown a significant decrease.
The central government will also make a decision on Friday on whether to designate a quasi-state of emergency in additional cities seeing a surge in infections.
Hokkaido, which on Sunday reported a record 326 infections, is among the prefectures seeking the designation for its capital city of Sapporo.
Quasi-emergency measures are already in place in seven prefectures, including Miyagi, Aichi, Ehime and Okinawa, until May 11.
Tokyo reported on Wednesday 621 new daily coronavirus cases, the metropolitan government said. The figure was slightly higher than the 609 cases confirmed on Tuesday but concerns remain over increasing reports of infections with highly contagious variants of the virus in the capital and other areas.
Tokyo's seven-day rolling average of infections per day has risen to 798.9, up 5.3 percent from the previous seven-day period.
Its cumulative total stands at 142,943.
"I can't help but regard the situation as still quite serious," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters Wednesday.
Japan has been struggling with a resurgence of the virus, with just under three months to go until this summer's Tokyo Olympics.
The number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms hit another all-time high of 1,114 on Wednesday, up 31 from the previous day, according to the health ministry. The nationwide tally of new infections reached over 4,000 the same day.
Wednesday also marked the last day of the Golden Week holiday period that started last Thursday, with pre-pandemic crowd levels largely absent from trains, flights and expressways.
But compared with the last day of Golden Week last year, when the country was still under a state of emergency, more people were out at almost all of the country's 95 key train stations and entertainment districts as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to data compiled by mobile carrier NTT Docomo Inc.
At the shinkansen bullet train platform at Shin-Osaka Station, which was sparsely populated on Wednesday morning, a 41-year-old man returning to Tokyo after a trip to his hometown of Osaka, said, "I basically stayed at home. I couldn't go out and have fun, so it didn't feel like the usual Golden Week."
A 23-year-old woman living in Saitama Prefecture said she decided to head back home to Nara Prefecture over Golden Week, her first big holiday since becoming a working adult, as her parents seemed to miss her. But due to fear of infection, she spent most of the time at home.
"My parents were happy and I had fun, but I didn't feel satisfied," she said.
According to Japan Railway operators, there were many empty seats on bullet train routes across Japan on Wednesday.
Only 30 percent of non-reserved seats on a Nozomi bullet train on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line that left Shin-Osaka Station just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday were occupied, and other bullet train lines bound for Tokyo saw an even lower rate of 5 percent.
Meanwhile, the seat occupancy rates based on bookings for Wednesday's flights to Tokyo on All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines were 74.0 percent and 73.9 percent respectively, the airlines' reservation statuses showed on April 23.