TOKYO: Japan‘s western metropolis of Osaka has decided to ask the government to declare a state of emergency in the region after ongoing alert measures failed to control the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura’s decision to request a third state of emergency comes two weeks after a month of alert measures began in the prefecture and just 50 days after an earlier toothless state of emergency ended.
The ongoing alert, which started on April 5 in Osaka and has since been expanded to 10 areas including Tokyo, allows prefectural leaders to issue binding orders for bars and restaurants to operate shorter hours in exchange for compensation, with penalties for violators.
A new state of emergency, under a law toughened in February, would allow authorities to issue binding orders for business owners to close or shorten service hours. Measures for the general public, including mask wearing and staying at home, would remain non-mandatory requests.
Nationwide, Japan has recorded 537,317 cases including 9,671 deaths as of Monday – results that are good by world standards but worse than in some other Asian countries – without any enforced lockdowns. But people are becoming impatient and less cooperative in response to requests.
Osaka is expected to close theme parks, shopping malls and other commercial facilities to drastically reduce public activity for a few weeks.
Requests from local leaders for anti-virus measures highlight delays by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga‘s government, which has already been criticized for being slow because of its reluctance to further hurt the pandemic-hit economy. Suga met with key ministers on Tuesday to discuss measures for Osaka.
Osaka’s neighboring Hyogo prefecture and Tokyo are expected to follow, adding to uncertainty about Japan’s plans to host the Olympics in three months. Less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated.
In Tokyo, partial alert measures began last week amid a rapid upsurge in infections fueled by a new variant first detected in Britain. Gov. Yuriko Koike said she is considering seeking a state of emergency so she can take tougher measures.
Tokyo’s previous emergency ended on March

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