• Jiji, Kyodo

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The government should wait until the novel coronavirus infection situation improves to Stage 2, the second-lowest level in its four-tier alert scale, before lifting the current state of emergency, the head of a government coronavirus panel suggested Sunday.

Shigeru Omi, head of a government-appointed panel of experts on the coronavirus pandemic, presented the view on a television program, citing the spread of coronavirus variants, which are more transmissible than the original strain.

The third state of emergency has been extended until the end of May, beyond the initially scheduled expiration date of Tuesday, and will be expanded to cover Tokyo and five prefectures, effective Wednesday.

Omi said he thought that it would be difficult to end the 17-day state of emergency, which started on April 25, as scheduled on Tuesday.

"If (the emergency) is lifted soon, the same thing (a resurgence of infection cases) would happen," Omi said. "It is very important to be patient."

On the same TV program, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who leads the government's efforts to tackle the virus crisis, suggested that the timing for lifting the state of emergency depends on whether a fifth wave of infections can be avoided.

"The state of emergency can't be kept in place forever. We want to see whether conditions will be met for preventing the next big wave," he said.

While urging businesses again to promote remote working, Nishimura said the government will ask large companies to disclose their records of implementation.

The health ministry said Sunday that the number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms nationwide has risen to a fresh record of 1,144.

The previous record for severely ill patients was 1,131 reported on Friday, when the government decided to extend the current state of emergency covering Tokyo and the greater Osaka area to May 31 and expand the measure to Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.

The country is now facing a fourth wave of infections, with its daily coronavirus cases topping 7,000 for the first time since mid-January on Saturday and a record number of infections seen in 15 of its 47 prefectures.

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