TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will consider issuing a new emergency declaration after governors in the capital region urged action to tackle a record surge in COVID-19 cases, the head of the nation’s pandemic response said on Saturday.
The government needs to consult with health experts before deciding on a new declaration, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters after a meeting with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and leaders from three neighbouring prefectures.
“The national government and the three governors shared the view that the situation in the Tokyo area is getting more severe such that an emergency declaration may be necessary,” Nishimura said.
As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlors in the Tokyo area would be asked to close at 8 p.m., while businesses that serve alcohol should close at 7 p.m., he said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted calls to reinstate a national state of emergency, which the government had introduced in April during an earlier wave of the pandemic. Suga is next scheduled to speak publicly on Jan. 4.
It relied on voluntary business closures and travel restrictions rather than the sort of rigid lockdown measures seen in parts of Europe and the United States.
Tokyo raised its COVID-19 alert level to its highest measure on Dec. 17. New infections in the capital hit a record 1,337 on Dec. 31, and on Saturday numbered 814. A nationwide record was also set on Dec. 31 with 4,520 new cases.
The rise in COVID-19 cases is compounding a seasonal increase in hospitalisations, said Fumie Sakamoto, infection control manager at St Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo.
“The Japanese government has not done a great deal to control the infection,” Sakamoto said. “I would expect the (infection) numbers will get bigger in the coming days, and the emergency declaration should have come earlier, probably during December or November.”
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Kim Coghill, Neil Fullick and Ros Russell)