After a meeting early Thurday, Japan government is set to announce an extension of the state of emergency in Tokyo and nearly 20 other areas until the end of this month - September. Although the infection rate is decreasing slowly, the healthcare systems remain strained and Japan is looking to buy some time until November when most of its population would be vaccinated.
The current emergency, which was about to end on Sunday, was issued in Okinawa, back in May 2021 and it gradually expanded. Despite the prolonged emergency, the largely request-based measures have become less effective as the public is ignoring them now.
The planned extension comes at a time when Japan's government is transitioning powers. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is not running in a September 29 race for his party's leadership, and his successor likely will be the next PM of Japan.
His government had faced steep criticism over COVID-19 management. Seen as too-late and too-small to be effective and for holding the Olympics despite public opposition during a pandemic, Suga got into deep trouble as the COVID-19 cases started increasing in Japan.
Economy and Fiscal Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of COVID-19 measures, proposed the extension of the emergency in a meeting held on Thursday, saying that serious cases remained high and still are overwhelming many hospitals and tens of thousands of patients are staying at home or makeshift facilities.
“We need to stabilize the medical systems and make sure the infections are steadily decreasing. We also need to relieve extra burden on the healthcare systems,” Nishimura said.
The extension will be formally announced soon after the meeting. The proposal is for 19 of the current 21 prefectures to stay in a state of emergency, while Okayama in the west and Miyagi in the north, where hospitals now have rooms, will be categorised down to semi-emergency status.
The government, meanwhile, is studying a road map for easing restrictions around the month of November when the large majority of the population is expected to be fully vaccinated. The easing of restrictions would allow the fully vaccinated to travel, gather for parties or attend mass gatherings.
As of now, about 49% of the people have completed inoculations and the rate is expected to exceed 60% by the end of September, Nishimura said.
Japan has done much better than other developed countries in containing the number of cases and deaths without implementing a lockdown, but the country has been struggling with waves of viral boom propelled by the more contagious new variants. Japan has about 1.65 million accumulated cases and 16,500 deaths.