Japan extends virus emergency for Tokyo region by two weeks

Tokyo reported 279 cases on Thursday. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday (March 5) apologised for extending a state of emergency in the Tokyo area for another two weeks, but said risks still remain of a rebound in infections and urged people to be on guard for coronavirus variants.

The Tokyo area's state of emergency is being extended until March 21.

The move to prolong a nearly two-month emergency already in place for the region comes as the government tries to maintain a declining trend in infections ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which begins in about four months.

Suga told a briefing the measure applies to Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, which have a combined population of about 36 million people.

Under the emergency, local governments have instructed bars and restaurants to close at 8 pm, and advised people to avoid going out unnecessarily.

The measures, while limited, have helped much of the country bring infections under control, but have proved damaging for many retail and restaurant businesses.

"While the number of infections is on a downward trend, the speed of the fall is slowing, there are areas where more people are going out, and there are increasing concerns of a rebound," Suga told reporters.

"These two weeks will be needed not just for reducing the number of cases, but seriously examining the situation."

The January virus emergency that at first covered the Tokyo region was later expanded to 11 regions that accounted for about 60 per cent of the economy and included all major metro areas.

By this week, only the Tokyo area was still on the list, underscoring progress against a Covid-19 surge that has battered the economy and
Suga's approval rating.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is considering setting a criteria that new daily infections stay below 140 on a weekly average basis, to lift the state of emergency, the Nikkei reported.

Tokyo's daily new infection came in at 269 on average for the past week through March 4, according to Reuters calculations.

Preparations are ramping up for the Tokyo Olympics.

Foreign athletes have been barred from entering Japan to train ahead of the Games during the state of emergency.

Suga imposed a state of emergency in early January as cases hit a record high of 2,520 in the capital on Jan 7.

Infections have dropped in Tokyo since then - falling to 121 on March 1, the lowest since November.

The seven-day average of new infections in Tokyo was at 274 on Friday, well below a 500 threshold cited by the government as one of several requirements for lifting the emergency, but higher than the previous day.

Japan has also posted the fewest confirmed Covid-19 infections of all the Group of Seven leading economies but has been a laggard in vaccinations, only beginning its program to administer shots in February.

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