• Kyodo, Jiji, staff report

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Sunday the government will take “a few days” before deciding whether to expand a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic to include Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

The comment on an NHK television program came a day after the governors of the three Kansai prefectures asked the central government to extend the state of emergency, which took effect Friday for the Tokyo region, to their jurisdictions in response to the resurging coronavirus.

“I was told that we need to observe the situation for a few days, so I am thinking along those lines,” Suga said, referring to the opinion of a government panel of experts that monitors infection trends.

The government has requested businesses in the three prefectures take measures such as shortening the operating hours of restaurants and promoting telework.

“I know they are in a tense situation. We are ready to respond immediately if necessary,” he added.

By declaring a state of emergency, the central government enables local authorities to urge people to stay home as much as possible and to call on eateries to shorten operating hours.

In April, Japan issued a state of emergency for some of the nation’s 47 prefectures and later widened it to cover the whole country. The government fully lifted it in late May.

The resurgence of the virus has been increasing the strain on the country’s medical system.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, have criticized Suga for being slow to declare the monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama.

The decision finally came after the governors of the four local governments requested it earlier this month.

“I humbly accept (the criticism),” Suga said on the program.

On Sunday, Tokyo reported 1,494 COVID-19 cases, ending a run of three straight days over 2,000 but far surpassing the record for a Sunday of 817 set just last week.

The Tokyo figure came three days after a record high 2,447 infections were reported in the capital.

Osaka reported 532 cases on Sunday, after logging a record 654 cases on Friday and 647 cases on Saturday.

On Saturday, the daily tally of coronavirus infections in Japan topped 7,000 for the third day in a row, after hitting a record of around 7,900 on Friday.

Japan’s cumulative total of deaths also surpassed 4,000, reaching the milestone just half a month after the figure topped 3,000 on Dec. 22, underscoring how the pace of deaths has increased in unison with the surge in infections.

Suga pinned hopes on a bill to revise the special law on the fight against the coronavirus, which will be submitted to the regular session of the Diet to be convened on Jan. 18. Through the revision, the government seeks to introduce penalties on eating and drinking establishments refusing to comply with authorities’ requests for cutting operating hours.

Suga said that the revised law and potential punitive measures, along with continued aid to businesses that accept requests to shorten their operating hours, would boost the effectiveness of the country’s fight against the virus.

Regarding the timing of any dissolution of the House of Representatives for a snap election, Suga said he will put fighting the coronavirus pandemic as his top priority before an election is held.

The terms for the current members of the Lower House will end in October and an election must be held by then.

Suga said there are several possible time frames for holding the election, without elaborating further.

On the same program, Suga also said that a recent incident in which supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol was “extremely regrettable” because “people in the world believe that (parliament) is a symbol of a democratic country.”

“I hope that the United States will soon move into a direction in a shift away from confrontation, with next U.S. President Joe Biden at the center,” he said.

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