• Kyodo, Jiji

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Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday asked the central government to add it to areas under a COVID-19 state of emergency, amid a surge of infections in the southern island prefecture.

The prefecture reported record daily new infections of 203, up from 168 the previous day. The occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in the prefecture stood at 101.3% as of the same day.

"Infections are spreading almost across the prefecture," Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who was visiting Tokyo, told reporters after joining the task force meeting of the local government, which made the decision, online. "The speed of the original strain being replaced by variants is accelerating."

Kiichiro Jahana, vice governor of Okinawa, told reporters, "Okinawa's medical system is in a perilous situation that the prefecture has never experienced before."

"If the coronavirus spreads further among our older citizens, lives that could be saved will not be," the vice governor added.

Currently, 16 municipalities in Okinawa are under a quasi-state of emergency, which allows governors to single out areas with such anti-virus measures as telling restaurants to close early, while the state of emergency covers entire prefectures and carries stricter steps, including the closure of commercial facilities.

The prefectural government plans to order noncompliant eateries in the 16 municipalities to reduce their operating hours and will release the names of such businesses.

As soon as the country adds Okinawa to the list of areas under the state of emergency, the prefecture will ask alcohol-serving restaurants across the prefecture to close down.

At present, nine prefectures across Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, are under a state of emergency until May 31. In areas under the emergency, restaurants and bars are told to close by 8 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol or offering karaoke services.

Department stores and other major commercial facilities are also requested to temporarily shut or close early, and attendance at concerts and sports events has been capped at 5,000 people or 50% of venue capacity.

Amid its fourth wave of virus infections, almost half of Japan's 47 prefectures have reached Stage 4, the worst level on the government's four-point scale, for the volume of weekly infection cases per 100,000 people.

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