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The central government’s state of emergency over the spread of COVID-19 was formally expanded Wednesday to cover Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.

The measure, which had already covered Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures, will be in place until at least May 31. The state of emergency took effect on April 25 for the capital and the three western prefectures and was initially slated to end on Tuesday. The government decided on the 20-day extension last week.

As cases continue to rise in part due to the spread of more contagious variants of the virus, the government is aiming to step up containment efforts in cooperation with local authorities.

Other areas which have seen spikes in new cases are covered by pre-emergency steps aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Such policies, also running until May 31, are in place for Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Ehime, Okinawa, Hokkaido, Gifu and Mie prefectures.

The government let the pre-emergency designation for Miyagi Prefecture expire on Tuesday because the virus situation had improved.

At a liaison meeting between the government and the ruling coalition on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the government was aiming to take highly effective measures to stem to spread of the virus.

In the areas subject to the emergency, bars and restaurants offering alcoholic beverages and karaoke services have been asked to close temporarily.

Suga also said that intensive measures to reduce infections will be implemented in the areas with the pre-emergency status through close cooperation between the state and local governments.

During a videoconference on Monday, the National Governors’ Association called on the central government to strengthen measures and to consider the possibility of expanding the state of emergency nationwide.

In response, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a news conference Tuesday: “If the emergency is applied across the country, prefectures where infection cases aren’t spreading will also be covered by the measure. Careful consideration is needed as the state of emergency involves restricting private rights under the law.”

Nishimura, who is in charge of the central government’s coronavirus response, also said that Fukushima, Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures have asked to be added to the areas covered by the pre-emergency steps.

“The government will respond flexibly depending on needs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Cultural Affairs Agency said Tuesday that state-run cultural facilities such as museums in Tokyo will remain closed.

The agency initially planned to reopen them on Wednesday but decided to keep them shut following a request from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The facilities are the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the National Art Center, Tokyo; the Tokyo National Museum; the National Museum of Nature and Science; and the National Film Archive of Japan.

“It’s greatly meaningful for the central and metropolitan governments to work together to take measures and send out messages” aimed at preventing the further spread of the virus, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.

Under the state of emergency, the central government is allowing large-scale facilities with a floor space of over 1,000 square meters to open until 8 p.m.

But it has not ruled out the possibility of asking those facilities to close if asked to by prefectural governors.

Despite Koike’s call for continued closures, however, the agency had previously been preparing to reopen the facilities on the grounds that infection risks there were low.

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