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With no signs of a decline of new COVID-19 cases in hard-hit areas, the prospect of a state of emergency extension grew Wednesday as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with Cabinet ministers to determine a path forward.

Suga met with health minister Norihisa Tamura, transportation minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister leading the nation’s COVID-19 response, on Wednesday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

“I plan to decide what to do with the state of emergency and the quasi-emergency countermeasures within this week after consulting with experts,” Suga said after the meeting.

Asked about the declaration’s effectiveness, he said the measures have started to reduce people’s movement, which was one of the emergency’s goals.

The current state of emergency is set to expire Tuesday in Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures. A formal decision by the central government — which had hoped stronger measures over a short time period might quickly stem the rising number of cases — is expected as early as Friday.

An extension appears to be inevitable considering the surge in new cases driven by variants has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon, while experts say the health care system in hard-hit Osaka has essentially collapsed.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura was pessimistic Tuesday about ending the declaration as originally scheduled and indicated he would be asking for an extension.

Yoshimura reportedly said it would be difficult to relax or lift the current measures in place under the state of emergency.

The prefecture has seen daily cases close to or exceeding 1,000 since mid-April and there have been multiple cases of patients in serious conditions dying at home after they could not be admitted to the hospital due to overcapacity.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on April 23. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on April 23. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

In the third coronavirus state of emergency, prefectural governments asked restaurants that serve alcohol or offer karaoke to close temporarily. Restaurants not serving alcohol are being asked to close by 8 p.m. The governments have requested that shopping malls close but allowed those that sell essential goods to stay open.

Nevertheless, hopes for a quick improvement in the situation are evaporating. The health ministry reported the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition hit a record high of 1,114 nationwide Tuesday. Tokyo logged 621 cases on Wednesday, a decrease of 304 cases compared to the same day last week, but that drop may be due to lower testing numbers during the Golden Week holidays.

Elsewhere, at least a half dozen prefectures, including Hokkaido and Tokushima prefectures, are either expected to request or have already asked the central government to invoke stronger, quasi-emergency countermeasures.

On Tuesday, Suga reportedly told an infectious disease expert that he is finding it “difficult” to decide whether to lift the country’s third state of emergency.

During a meeting with Nobuhiko Okabe, a special adviser to the Cabinet and a member of the government’s advisory panel, Suga said that infection numbers are not coming down, according to Kyodo News.

After the meeting with Suga, Okabe reportedly said, “I think the prime minister is very much worried” about lifting the state of emergency.

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