Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's sudden announcement of his intention to resign at a time when the country is battling a resurgence of COVID-19 infections was met Friday with surprise and criticism by many people in Japan, with medical workers lamenting his slow and inadequate response to fight the virus.

"I thought he would stay on (as prime minister) a little longer," said a 35-year-old female nurse in Sapporo on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, who was among those caught off guard by Suga's abrupt announcement.

Suga's intent to step down came amid strong public criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Delta variant rapidly spreading across the country and now 21 out of Japan's 47 prefectures under COVID state of emergency.

He was also criticized for going ahead with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite public opposition amid mounting concerns over the spread of the virus.

"Japan lagged behind in securing and distributing vaccines, and the Suga administration did not provide any information (about it)," said Yasuhiko Hirata, chairman of the medical association of Fukuoka city in southwestern Japan.

"If (Suga's government) is going to pursue vaccination policies, I wish he could have better handled the vaccinations rather than (going ahead in) holding the Olympics," said Haruka Honda, 34, who was at a vaccination site for young people in Tokyo's Shibuya district.

Suga's handling of COVID drew further flak after the government introduced a policy last month allowing only patients with severe symptoms to be hospitalized to prevent a hospital bed shortage.

A nurse at a Tokyo hospital criticized the policy as being out of touch with reality, saying it shows how the government was "totally not aware of the situation on ground."

"There is not a single COVID policy that can be praised, and whatever comes out of the government comes out hollow," said the 47-year-old nurse said.

The government's handling of COVID was also unpopular among people running eatery businesses reeling from the impact of the pandemic.

The government had banned eateries from serving alcohol and had them close early under a COVID emergency, but Yoshihito Konishi, who operates a Japanese "sukiyaki" hot pot dish eatery in the city of Osaka, said more and more stores are not complying with the requests.

Shinya Murakami, manager at a restaurant in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan, also criticized the government for being "one step behind" in dealing with the sense of crisis facing eateries.