TOKYO: Japan announced a new virus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, as the country battles surging infections just three months before the Olympic opening ceremony.
The nation’s virus outbreak remains much smaller than in many countries, but a recent uptick in cases has officials and medical professionals worried, even as the government and Olympic organisers insist this summer’s Games will go ahead.
“Today we decided to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced, citing the rise of infections involving new virus variants. The measure will run from April 25 to May 11.
The country’s minister for virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura earlier warned of a “strong sense of crisis,” saying current restrictions were not sufficient.
The measures will be tougher than Japan’s last state of emergency, imposed in parts of the country from January, but still far short of the harsh lockdowns seen in some parts of the world.
Authorities want bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol or close, and to shutter major commercial facilities like malls.
The measure will coincide with the Golden Week holiday that is Japan’s busiest travel period of the year, and could involve cutting some train and bus services to discourage movement.
Spectators will also be barred from sports events, which can continue behind closed doors, and remote working will be encouraged.
Although the measures start from Sunday, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to start taking precautions immediately, including avoiding drinking in the street after bars and restaurants close early.
She even urged businesses to turn their lights off in the evenings to encourage people to stay away.
“After 8:00pm, we ask that bright signage on streets, neon signs and illumination be turned off,” she said.
“It will be dark at night, with only street lights on,” she added, to “curb the flow of people.”
Japan has had some success containing the coronavirus, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never imposing strict lockdown measures.
But cases surged over winter and have rebounded since the previous state of emergency

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