• Jiji, Kyodo

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With the daily new cases of COVID-19 hitting record highs, medical experts are urging the central government to declare a fresh state of emergency before it is too late, calling the current spread a “fourth wave.”

“An early emergency declaration is necessary,” Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said Wednesday, amid fears of a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases if movements of people increase further, with the Golden Week holiday period to start later this month.

The medical association head said the medical system in Osaka Prefecture is beginning to collapse, making it difficult for people there to receive proper medical treatment when necessary.

In Osaka, the number of new COVID-19 cases came to a record 1,208 on Thursday, topping 1,000 for the third straight day, while 97.8 % of the hospital beds prepared for severely ill coronavirus patients in the prefecture have been occupied.

The nationwide tally topped 4,300 new cases on Wednesday, the highest since Jan. 23, with Hyogo Prefecture also confirming a record 507 cases.

“A similar situation may occur in the metropolitan area (including Tokyo), where the previous state of emergency was lifted three weeks later (than in Osaka),” Nakagawa said.

On Thursday, Tokyo confirmed 729 new cases, the first time daily tally in excess of 700 since Feb. 4.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Thursday the capital is entering a “new phase,” with a rapid increase of infections with variant strains. “We must stop people’s movement,” Koike said, urging businesses once again to switch to remote work.

Shigeru Omi, who heads a government panel of experts on the coronavirus pandemic, also said Japan is seeing a fourth wave of infections.

“I can say that a fourth wave of infections has started in the country,” Omi, he said at a committee meeting of the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

“Due in part to the impact of variant strains, now is the time to flexibly take quasi-emergency measures,” Omi said, adding that the government should also consider issuing a state of emergency in Osaka.

At the same committee meeting, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is playing a pivotal role in the government’s fight against the virus, said the government will consider adopting the quasi-emergency measures in Aichi and Saitama prefectures for preventing a further spread of novel coronavirus infections there.

“Flexible responses,” such as the possible adoption of stronger measures under the revised coronavirus special law, are needed for Aichi and Saitama prefectures, Nishimura said. “I’m concerned over the rising proportion of novel coronavirus variant cases in the two prefectures.”

The government is in talks with the prefectural governments of Aichi and Saitama, and will decide whether to add the two prefectures to the list of areas under the pre-emergency stage while hearing experts’ views, he said.

The government is also set to discuss whether to put Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, both bordering Tokyo, under the stage as well.

In Osaka, where the coronavirus variant strains are spreading rapidly, the prefectural government asked schools in the prefecture to suspend club activities in principle from Thursday until May 5.

Schools were also asked to actively use online lessons.

In the prefecture, infection clusters have been confirmed among members of clubs mainly for indoor sports, such as volleyball and basketball.

“Infections are increasing especially among young people possibly because mutant strains of the virus are spreading,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Wednesday.

At a prefectural coronavirus taskforce meeting, participants also decided to call on residents of the prefecture afresh to avoid unnecessary outings. During the period until May 5, prefectural government officials will visit downtown areas in the city of Osaka and other municipalities at night to ask people to refrain from going out.

Yoshimura told reporters that the prefecture would need to switch to a coronavirus state of emergency if current countermeasures under the pre-emergency stage in the prefectural capital fail to produce results.

If a state of emergency is declared for the prefecture, “we’ll need to take strong measures, such as temporary business closure requests,” the governor said, suggesting that such requests would cover not only eating and drinking establishments but also theme parks and large commercial facilities, including department stores.

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