Japan's governors urged the central government on Friday to consider imposing a lockdown to better contain a spike in COVID-19 cases, calling the current measures "ineffective" in fighting the highly contagious Delta variant rapidly spreading across the country.
The call by the National Governors' Association during their online meeting came after a COVID state of emergency took effect in seven more prefectures the same day, with restrictions on business activity aimed at curbing Japan's largest-yet wave of infections.
The governors echoed calls by some people in the country seeking more drastic measures such as the lockdowns that have been imposed in some other countries. But Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed doubt over the effectiveness of those steps.
Japan has been struggling to secure hospital beds in the wake of a resurgence of infections, with a record 25,876 new cases confirmed across the country on Friday including 5,405 cases in Tokyo.
The country also faces challenges such as taking care of COVID patients recuperating at home and speeding up the vaccination program.
How to restrict people's movements is also an issue, as the latest emergency appears to have lost its impact on public behavior.
In a set of proposals compiled by the association and to be submitted soon to the central government, the governors seek a lockdown as a temporary COVID measure, saying the state must swiftly consider steps enabling tougher restrictions on people's movements such as legislation to impose a lockdown.
The governors also called for a nationwide state of emergency to prevent the flow of people across prefectural borders, and criticized the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in light of the spread of the Delta variant and increasing medical strains.
Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka will be under the emergency that took effect on Friday until Sept. 12, joining Chiba, Saitama, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Okinawa.
Under the measure, major commercial facilities such as department stores and shopping malls are being called on to limit the number of customers allowed in at the same time, in addition to restaurants and bars being barred from serving alcohol or offering karaoke and those not serving them asked to close by 8 p.m.
Suga has also called on the public to reduce outings to crowded places by 50 percent, and for firms to have employees work from home and cut the number of commuters by 70 percent.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference Friday the number of people frequenting Tokyo's major entertainment districts was down roughly 35 percent compared with early July, referring to the latest figure, and vowed the government will continue efforts to reach the 50 percent target.
A further 10 prefectures -- Miyagi, Yamanashi, Toyama, Gifu, Mie, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kagoshima -- on Friday came under a quasi-state of emergency, which allows governors to target specific areas with restrictions and carries smaller fines for noncompliance, in addition to six areas already under the measure.
Their addition means 29 of Japan's 47 prefectures, or roughly 84 percent of the population, are now under some kind of restrictions on business activities, less than two weeks after the Tokyo Olympics wrapped up and days before the Paralympics begin.
"Personally, I want to telework, but my company does not want to introduce it," a Kobe city resident in his 30s said at JR Sannomiya Station in the capital of Hyogo Prefecture.
His employer called on employees to work remotely during Japan's first virus emergency declared last year, "but it seems my company has gotten used to the state of emergency" and is not eager to implement telework, said the man who was on his way to work in Osaka.
The latest measure is the country's fourth virus emergency, yet a man in his 50s said at the station, "The train was crowded as usual."
Sunao Nakayama, 61, who was walking in the shopping arcade of Tenjin in Fukuoka city, southwestern Japan, said, "The cases of infection won't go down unless the government imposes a lockdown."
"If the government wants to promote remote work, then it should be uniformly introduced throughout the nation," said 58-year-old Shigekazu Tanaka, a resident of Sendai city in northeastern Japan's Miyagi Prefecture.
In Tokyo alone, the seven-day rolling average of infections has risen to 4,721.9 per day, up 13.6 percent from the previous week, the Tokyo metropolitan government said Friday.
On Thursday, the nationwide count of new COVID-19 cases in a single day topped 25,000 for the first time. The number of patients in serious condition hit a record high for the eighth consecutive day at 1,816 as of midnight Thursday, with the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus spreading rapidly.
The government decided earlier this month to only allow patients with severe symptoms to be hospitalized, a policy that has drawn controversy amid some instances of people who were unable to access medical care dying at home.
Suga has said he will not lift the state of emergency until "the provision of medical care is secured."