Japan expanded its coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday for the second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fuelled by the delta variant strains the country’s health-care system.
The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures, up from six, including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate “quasi-emergency” status, 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures. Eight prefectures were upgraded from quasi-emergency status to a full emergency.
“In order to protect the people’s lives, the priority is to maintain the health-care system,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said as he announced the emergency. “In order to overcome this crisis led by the delta strain, I seek further co-operation from everyone.”
Japan’s state of emergency relies on requirements for eateries to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly defied. Unenforceable physical distancing and teleworking requests for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency.
The Japanese capital has been under the state of emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold since then to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospital beds are quickly filling up, and many people must now recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.
‘No signs’ of cases slowing in Tokyo
More than 35,000 patients in Tokyo are recovering at home, about one-third of them unable to find a hospital or hotel vacancy immediately. Only a small percentage of hospitals are taking virus patients, either for financial reasons or because they lack the capability to treat the infections, experts say.
Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries, with about 15,600 deaths since the start, but its vaccination efforts lag behind other wealthy nations. About 40 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, mainly elderly people.
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Rising infections among schoolchildren and teenagers could accelerate the surge as they begin returning to class after the summer vacation, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, the top government medical adviser. He proposed schools curtail activity and urged high schools and colleges to return to online classes.
“Infections in Tokyo are showing no signs of slowing, and the severely tight medical systems will continue for a while,” he told a parliamentary session on Wednesday.
–From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET