Japan declares a state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka as cases continue to rise.


TOKYO — Japan on Friday declared states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and surrounding areas in an effort to stem a widening coronavirus outbreak three months before the country plans to host the Summer Olympics.

The measures will take effect on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, calling them “a short and concentrated measure” to slow the virus’s spread during the Golden Week holiday, traditionally one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

In addition to Tokyo and Osaka, the states of emergency cover the neighboring prefectures Kyoto and Hyogo and will be in place until May 11. Together, the four prefectures are home to roughly a quarter of Japan’s 126 million people.

Japan has managed the pandemic better than many other large economies, but a stubborn fourth wave, propelled by more infectious variants of the virus, has produced the most daily cases since January. Officials began imposing looser restrictions in early April over parts of 10 prefectures, but those steps have failed to corral the outbreak.

Over all, the country has recorded slightly more than half a million infections and about 10,000 deaths from the virus.

The new restrictions are intended to be tougher and shorter than two states of emergency Japan imposed over parts of the country at the start of the pandemic last year and in January, although they fall shy of the total lockdowns seen in other countries. The measures give the prefectures the authority to ask businesses to close or restrict hours, and to fine those that do not comply.

Large department stores, shopping malls, amusement parks and movie theaters will be asked to close, and all establishments will be banned from serving alcohol. Schools can remain open, and shops that sell food and other essential items will be spared. But restaurants and karaoke parlors will be asked to shorten their hours, and residents will be told not to drink alcohol in public venues.

Organizers of sporting events, including professional baseball games and soccer matches, will be asked not to allow spectators — although officials have said that the emergency measures will not affect the Tokyo Olympics, whose opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23.

Polls indicate that the Japanese public is increasingly frustrated with Mr. Suga, who took office in September, over his handling of the pandemic and his government’s insistence on going ahead with the Olympics, which were rescheduled from last year. Organizers have said the event will take place without spectators from abroad, and have barred crowds from parts of the ceremonial torch relay. Still, in surveys, more than 70 percent of Japanese say the games should be postponed again or canceled.

Eiji Fukui said he had managed to keep his Tokyo restaurant operating during previous states of emergency by reducing hours and offering takeout items. But this time he plans to close the restaurant completely, even though the rules allow him to stay open until 8 p.m. if he does not serve alcohol.

“It’s almost a tacit message not to operate during this period,” said Mr. Fukui, 39. “I don’t want to be bothered with operating without alcohol, so I will close this time since I received zero reservations anyway.”

Japan’s vaccine rollout has also been slower than in many other countries, with less than 1 percent of the population fully inoculated, according to a New York Times database.

Source : Nytimes