The western Japan prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo will ask the government Friday to place them under a coronavirus quasi-state of emergency amid the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said.
The planned joint request comes as Japan's confirmed daily coronavirus cases topped 46,000 on Thursday, setting a new record for the third day in a row and bringing the country's cumulative total to over 2 million.
Many areas have been struggling with what has become the "sixth wave" of infections, with Osaka seeing around 6,000 new daily infections recently.
The ratio of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in Osaka is "likely to reach today or tomorrow" the 35-percent threshold for requesting the central government's emergency step, Yoshimura told reporters.
The prefecture will make a formal decision on Friday following its headquarters meeting on countermeasures against the coronavirus.
The governors of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo affirmed in their meeting the previous day that if one of them decides to seek quasi-emergency curbs, they will ask together.
A quasi-emergency allows governors, based on their decisions, to request and order restaurants and bars to close early and stop or limit the serving of alcohol.
In addition to the three western prefectures, Hokkaido and the three southwestern Japan prefectures of Fukuoka, Saga and Oita are also preparing to ask the central government to place them under a quasi-state of emergency, local officials said Thursday, as the nation scrambles to rein in surging infections.
The potential expansion of quasi-emergency curbs to more prefectures underscores a growing sense of alarm among local authorities about further strain on the medical system and essential workers.
The governors of Fukushima, Shimane and Shizuoka have revealed they will ask the national government to apply quasi-emergency curbs to their areas, raising the likelihood that at least seven more areas will come under the anti-virus measures.
The central government is set to make a decision as early as next Tuesday on any official requests it receives from prefectures besides the 16 that have been, or are set to be, placed under a quasi-emergency, sources close to the matter said Thursday.
Japan decided Wednesday to expand quasi-emergency curbs to Tokyo and 12 other prefectures for three weeks from Friday, on top of Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Okinawa that have been subject to the measure since early January following a spike in infections local officials linked to nearby U.S. military bases.
Tokyo on Thursday confirmed 8,638 daily coronavirus cases, eclipsing the previous record high of 7,377 registered the previous day.
Meanwhile, a total of 6,350 cases had been confirmed among U.S. forces stationed in Japan as of Wednesday, of which 4,141 were in Okinawa, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told parliament.
Omicron has posed a new challenge to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and local authorities in imposing antivirus restrictions and keeping the economy going. "We need to join forces to achieve the goal to stop infections but not society," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told her counterparts in the metropolitan area during a virtual meeting.
Provisional results released by the health ministry Thursday showed that the Omicron variant accounted for 93 percent of all new infections in the week through last Sunday.
Kishida has been calling for public cooperation to reverse the trend in rising COVID-19 cases while seeking to speed up administering vaccine booster shots as the government aims to enhance domestic antivirus measures. In the meantime, Japan has imposed what the prime minister has called "the most stringent" border control measures among the Group of Seven advanced economies to keep the inflow of Omicron to a minimum.
A World Health Organization panel on Wednesday recommended member countries lift or ease international traffic bans, saying they do not provide "added value."
Asked about the recommendation, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Japan will maintain its entry ban on nonresident foreign nationals into Japan until the end of February as planned. "The infection situations regarding Omicron are clearly different in Japan and abroad," he said.