Osaka – With Osaka Prefecture still reporting record high numbers of COVID-19 cases two weeks after it imposed stricter measures, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura announced Monday that he will ask the central government to impose a fresh state of emergency.
“I’ve decided it’s necessary to request that the government declare a state of emergency for our prefecture in order to stop the movement of large groups of people. Stronger measures that request that theme parks, department stores and large shopping centers close are needed,” Yoshimura told reporters Monday morning.
The formal request is expected to come Tuesday, following a meeting of the prefectural task force dealing with the virus.
“We’re responding to the situation in Osaka with a sense of crisis and are in discussions with the prefecture about what to do,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday morning.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Monday there is particular concern over Osaka’s overwhelmed medical system and that the government would respond promptly to any formal request by the governor for a state of emergency.
Yoshimura’s decision comes a day after Osaka reported more than 1,200 new cases. On Monday, Osaka recorded 719 new cases, up from 603 cases on the same day the previous week.
A previous state of emergency for the prefecture ended in late February. But after another surge in new coronavirus cases — including those involving a more infectious variant — began in late March, Yoshimura announced local countermeasures would go into effect.
Though not a formal state of emergency, the countermeasures — abbreviated in Japanese as manbō — allow prefectural governments to step up efforts in specific areas, such as asking people to voluntarily avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings and requesting that businesses close early.
Osaka prefectural and municipal officials, along with privately contracted firms, also undertook street patrols to ensure Osaka’s nearly 40,000 restaurants, bars and similar establishments were not serving customers after 8 p.m. and that everyone was wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
On April 5, when Yoshimura imposed the new manbō countermeasures, Osaka Prefecture recorded 341 new cases, of which 143 were serious. But the efforts proved ineffective, and cases continued to rise. Osaka has reported over 1,000 cases a day since April 13.
Sunday saw a record 1,220 new cases in Osaka, including 286 people who were seriously ill. Prefectural beds for seriously ill patients of all kinds are now full, and the shortage meant 42 patients had to be put in other designated nonmedical facilities for less serious or asymptomatic patients.
Osaka has also issued a call for additional nursing staff. Yoshimura said last week the prefecture was in discussions to receive some nurses from Shiga Prefecture, but more could be needed.
In Hyogo Prefecture, which has also seen large numbers of coronavirus cases, Gov. Toshizo Ido said Monday that the prefectural task force dealing with the virus will meet Wednesday, at which time he will decide whether to ask the central government to declare a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is also talking about a possible state of emergency.
On Monday, a day after she said that another state of emergency declaration was under consideration, Koike said that the capital is weighing up all options. Kyodo News reported Monday that Tokyo will decide in the latter half of this week whether to request a state of emergency. Tokyo’s previous state of emergency was lifted on March 22, but cases have continued to rise since it ended. On Monday, 405 cases were reported.
With manbо̄ countermeasures failing to contain the virus in Osaka, Yoshimura is under a lot of pressure.
A year ago, when he was constantly appearing on television to explain the crisis, Twitter hashtags urged him to get some rest and shops in central Osaka started selling T-shirts with his face on them.
However, in recent days, there has been criticism on social media that he is spending too much time on local television rather than in consultation with experts.
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