A growing number of people in the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Japan's ruling party believe it will be necessary to extend the state of emergency for parts of the country continuing to see a high number of coronavirus cases, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The state of emergency, which entails urging the public to refrain from going outside unnecessarily and asking restaurants and bars to shorten their opening hours, could remain in place until the end of February, the sources said. The current end date is Feb. 7.
The government will ask health experts next week whether the number of coronavirus cases in the prefectures in question — Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi, Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka — and the strain on the medical system warrant an extension.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 response, said at a parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday the government will avoid waiting until the last minute to announce its decision so the prefectures will not be caught off guard.
Suga, meanwhile, admitted Japan's medical system has been ill-prepared to deal with the surge in COVID-19 patients, acknowledging that more lives may have been saved had proper treatment been available.
The rare admission of fault comes as public support for Suga's administration continues to dwindle amid mounting dissatisfaction with his pandemic response.
Asked by opposition lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto in the meeting of the House of Representatives' Budget Committee whether he felt responsible for COVID-19 patients that died at home after being turned away from hospitals, Suga said, "As the one in charge, I feel terribly sorry."
"We have not been able to provide the necessary care, and I recognize that because of this the Japanese people are feeling anxious," Suga said.
The Tokyo metropolitan government reported on Tuesday 1,026 new cases of the novel coronavirus, with the count exceeding 1,000 for the first time in three days.
The capital has seen four-digit daily increases almost every day since entering January, but the figures have been trending downward in recent days as people have been urged not to go outside unnecessarily and restaurants asked to shorten their opening hours under a state of emergency. Tokyo's cumulative cases now stand at 95,534. The nationwide tally reported on Tuesday was around 3,850.
Concern over the strain on the medical system persists, with the number of serious cases hovering around 150 and a notable increase in cases of people dying at home.
While Suga said he is aware of "various concerns" among the public over this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, he is determined to continue preparations to hold a "safe and secure" games with the necessary coronavirus measures in place.
The prime minister meanwhile dismissed calls from the opposition to rework a nearly ¥20 trillion ($190 billion) supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 set to be enacted this week.
The spending plan includes more than ¥1 trillion for the government's Go To Travel subsidy program, which was meant to spur domestic tourism but was suspended after Suga declared a one-month state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area on Jan. 7, later expanded to cover 11 of Japan's 47 prefectures.
Suga also said he is not planning a repeat of last year's distribution of a ¥100,000 ($960) stimulus to each of Japan's 126 million residents, saying the government is taking more targeted steps to keep businesses going and protect jobs.
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