• KYODO, JIJI, STAFF REPORT

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Japan’s daily COVID-19 cases topped 7,000 for the first time since mid-January on Saturday, a day after the government’s decision to expand the ongoing state of emergency beyond Tokyo and the greater Osaka region, amid growing fears over spreading variants of the coronavirus.

While some people expressed weariness about having to put up with longer restrictions, 13 of the country’s 47 prefectures saw record daily coronavirus cases, including Aichi and Fukuoka, which are due to be placed under the emergency from Wednesday.

While Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures confirmed a record 575 and 519 cases, respectively, Hokkaido reported an all-time daily high of 403 infections. Ten other prefectures also saw record daily highs: Okayama, at 189, Gunma, at 113, Kumamoto, at 111, Oita, at 93, Ishikawa, at 80, Kagawa, at 78, Saga, at 76, Shiga, at 74, Nagasaki, at 65, and Niigata, at 50.

Tokyo, which is set to host the Olympics in less than three months, meanwhile, reported 1,121 new cases, the highest daily level since Jan. 22, when the second state of emergency was still in place. Osaka Prefecture reported 1,021 new cases, with its daily count falling below that in Tokyo for the first time since March 29. New fatalities linked to the virus in Osaka came to 41, exceeding 40 for the second day in a row.

Meanwhile, the number of severely ill coronavirus patients nationwide stood at a record 1,131, unchanged from Friday.

A handful of people walk at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Saturday morning, a day after the government announced it would extend and expand its coronavirus state of emergency. | KYODO
A handful of people walk at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Saturday morning, a day after the government announced it would extend and expand its coronavirus state of emergency. | KYODO

Few travelers were seen at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, following the government’s decision on Friday to extend the third emergency, which was initially slated to end Tuesday, to May 31.

“There is no end in sight,” said 65-year-old Motohiro Nagata, who was heading to Toyama Prefecture in central Japan in the morning. “I can’t plan ahead as the government changes the period (of the emergency) and details of the anti-virus measures so often.”

Under the emergency, tougher measures have been taken since late April in an attempt to curb surging infections, such as asking dining establishments to stop serving alcohol, big shopping facilities to close and big events to be held without spectators.

With the latest decision, the government said some restrictions could be eased, including allowing department stores to open until 8 p.m. and organizers to stage concerts with a limited number of people. But each prefectural governor has been given the authority to decide on the kind of steps to be taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said they will continue to ask large commercial facilities with more than 1,000 square meters of floor space to remain closed, saying the situation had not improved enough to let down their guard.

In Tokyo, amusement parks such as Yomiuriland, however, decided to resume operations with a cap of 5,000 visitors from Thursday as requested by the metropolitan government.

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