TOKYO – Japan on Friday declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and surrounding areas in an effort to stem an expanding coronavirus outbreak three months before the country plans to host the Summer Olympics.
The measures will take effect Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, calling them “a short, concentrated measure” to slow the spread of the virus during the Golden Week holidays, traditionally one of the busiest travel times of the year.
In addition to Tokyo and Osaka, the states of emergency cover the nearby prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo and will be active until May 11. Together, the four prefectures are home to around a quarter of Japan’s 126 million inhabitants.
Japan has handled the pandemic better than many other major economies, but a stubborn fourth wave, pushed by more infectious variants of the virus, has produced the most daily cases since January. Officials began imposing wider restrictions in early April on parts of 10 prefectures, but these steps have failed to stop the outbreak.
Overall, the country has recorded just over half a million infections and about 10,000 deaths from the virus.
The new restrictions are thought to be stricter and shorter than two states of emergency Japan imposed on parts of the country at the start of the pandemic last year and in January, although they are sheltered from the total lockdowns seen in other countries. The measures give prefectures the authority to ask businesses to close or limit hours and to fine those who do not respect it.
Department stores, shopping malls, amusement parks and cinemas will be asked to close, and all establishments will be banned from serving alcohol. Schools can remain open and shops selling food and other essential items will be spared. But restaurants and karaoke rooms will be asked to shorten their hours and residents will be told not to drink alcohol in public places.
Organizers of sporting events, including professional baseball games and football matches, will be asked not to allow spectators, although officials said the emergency measures will not affect the Tokyo Olympics, which is scheduled to open. for 23 July.
Polls indicate that the Japanese public are increasingly frustrated with Mr. Suga, who took office in September, with his handling of the pandemic and his government’s insistence on continuing the Olympics, which have been rescheduled since the year. last. Organizers said the event would take place without spectators from overseas and excluded crowds from parts of the ceremonial torch relay. However, in polls, over 70% of Japanese say games should be postponed again or canceled.
Eiji Fukui said he managed to keep his Tokyo restaurant operational during previous states of emergency by reducing hours and offering takeaways. But this time he plans to close the restaurant completely, even though the rules allow him to stay open until 8pm if he doesn’t serve alcohol.
“It is almost a tacit message not to operate during this period,” said Mr. Fukui, 39. “I don’t want to be bothered by the alcohol-free operation, so I’ll be closing this time as I haven’t received reservations anyway.”
Vaccine launch in Japan has also been slower than in many other countries, with less than 1% of the population fully inoculated, according to a New York Times database.