The government on Thursday set up a special task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus, clearing an important prerequisite toward any declaration of a state of emergency.

The decision reflects a recent surge of COVID-19 patients, particularly in Tokyo, which on Thursday reported more than 45 new cases, its biggest one-day jump so far. It also sends a dire signal to the rest of the country that Japan needs to brace for a potential "explosive" increase of cases like that seen in Europe and elsewhere, as feared by health care officials.

Establishing the special task force is based on the coronavirus special measures law passed earlier this month.