Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged the central government on Thursday to grant her the legal authority to employ stronger coronavirus measures in the capital, where an abrupt resurgence of new cases, inflamed by contagious variants, has the city bracing for a fourth wave.
“Untraceable cases and those linked to variants are emerging at an increasing rate,” Koike told reporters on Thursday. “What’s crucial now is to contain foot traffic and travel across prefectural borders to prevent coronavirus variants from spreading throughout the country.”
Koike submitted a formal request on Thursday asking the central government to give her the designation she needs to take new countermeasures meant to prevent a third state of emergency, which could include asking dining establishments to close by 8 p.m., an hour earlier than what’s currently being requested. The measures took effect earlier this month in parts of Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures amid a surge of infections in those areas.
Though she didn’t specify where, when, for how long or upon whom the new measures would take effect, Koike hinted that stricter measures should be taken at least until the end of Golden Week, which begins in late April.
Tokyo reported 545 new cases on Thursday, a day after it saw 555, its highest daily figure in more than two months.
Nationwide, the country reported an additional 3,451 cases on Wednesday, the most in a single day since late January.
On Wednesday, the capital reported a new daily high of 30 cases linked to variants. All were found to be of the N501Y variant, officials said, which is thought to have originated in the United Kingdom.
Tokyo officials warned that if the spread of variants isn’t detected early and the ongoing surge in new cases isn’t contained, it could turn into a large outbreak that surpasses the previous three waves seen over the past 15 months.
An abrupt increase in foot traffic, a growing number of infected youth and untraceable cases as well as an increasing number of cases of infections linked to variants are all major concerns, officials said during a meeting at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on Thursday.
The measures requested by Koike — often referred to as “manbо̄,” the shortened version of the full name in Japanese — are new, and became possible after a revision of Japan’s infectious disease laws in February.
They allow local leaders to use measures that aim to prevent the need for stricter rules under a state of emergency. Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi were the first three prefectures to enact the quasi-emergency measures.
Japan’s second state of emergency — which was declared in early January in 11 prefectures and later extended for all but Tochigi — was lifted in six prefectures in early March, including Osaka and Hyogo.
There are concerns of a delayed spike in Tokyo, where the state of emergency was lifted on March 22, nearly three weeks after the two Kansai prefectures.
Osaka Prefecture declared a medical emergency on Wednesday, the same day it reported a record-breaking 878 new cases.
On Thursday it surpassed that record when it reported an additional 905 cases.
Other prefectures are following similar trajectories as the virus continues to rebound nationwide.
New cases have been climbing throughout most of the country since early March, but began to escalate in recent weeks, most notably in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi as well as in Tokyo, Aichi, Okinawa and Yamagata.
When the country’s second state of emergency was declared in January and lifted in March, the greater Tokyo metropolitan area — which consists of the capital and Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures — were treated as a bundle.
This time, however, the new measures may only be deployed in Tokyo, at least for the time being.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week that prefectures will be designated for stricter countermeasures upon request from local governors.
Chiba Gov. Toshihito Kumagai said Thursday that the prefecture had “not reached a point where such a request is necessary.” Still, he added, an uptick in the capital has tended to lead to an uptick in neighboring prefectures, so a decision needs to be made quickly if and when that happens.”
Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said Wednesday that new cases have been contained for now and that the prefecture doesn’t require stronger measures at this point in time.
Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki, on the other hand, said Thursday that he plans to formally ask the central government on Friday for the authority to enact the stricter measures.
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