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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday evening that the country’s state of emergency will be expanded to Okinawa, adding one more prefecture to what is a growing list of 10 areas where the order will be in effect.

The state of emergency will be in place from Sunday through June 20 in the country’s southernmost prefecture, where a record 207 new cases were reported Friday. As of Thursday, more than 90% of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in Okinawa were occupied, and officials fear medical facilities will be overwhelmed if new cases continue to increase.

Gifu Prefecture, where pre-emergency measures are active, had requested to be added to the state of emergency list, but the central government rejected the request and chose instead to keep current measures in place.

The order is scheduled to expire in nine prefectures on May 31, making Okinawa the only prefecture to have a state of emergency in place into June.

Meanwhile, pre-emergency measures meant to prevent the need for a state of emergency will be in force in eight prefectures until either the end of May or mid-June. Suga announced Friday that pre-emergency measures in Ehime Prefecture will be lifted Sunday.

As the fourth wave of the pandemic continues to spread across the country, calls are growing for countermeasures to be expanded and extended to be at least in line with the end date for Okinawa.

On May 12, Kamon Iizumi, the governor of Tokushima Prefecture and president of the National Governors’ Association, told Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s COVID-19 response, that a nationwide state of emergency “may be necessary considering the situations in a growing number of prefectures.”

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of coronavirus response, speaks during a government meeting on Friday in Tokyo. | KYODO
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of coronavirus response, speaks during a government meeting on Friday in Tokyo. | KYODO

That situation continues to worsen as beds for virus patients are filling up in hospitals in major prefectures, but the central government remains hesitant to expand the order to cover the entire country.

The country’s third state of emergency was first declared in late April in four prefectures — Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo — until May 11. When the order was extended to the end of May, two more — Aichi and Fukuoka — were added to the list. Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima were added last week.

Meanwhile, pre-emergency measures meant to prevent the need for a state of emergency that were first enforced in four prefectures in mid-April are now in force in a total of 10 prefectures until June 13.

Japan is dealing with its fourth wave of the coronavirus and its third state of emergency.

But this wave presented a unique challenge: new variants of COVID-19 that are deadlier, more contagious and difficult to detect are inflaming the outbreak, causing it to spread wider and faster.

Just over 4% of the population in Japan has received at least a first dose of a two-dose vaccine, the lowest rate among major economies.

Large-scale inoculation sites will become operational in Tokyo and Osaka on Monday, where the Moderna vaccine, which was approved by the government on Friday, will be administered. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was also approved on Friday, will not be used for now.

A pub in Naha on Thursday. | KYODO
A pub in Naha on Thursday. | KYODO
Naha on Thursday. As the fourth wave of the pandemic continues to spread further and wider across the country, calls are growing for countermeasures to be expanded and extended to, at the very least, be in line with the end date for Okinawa Prefecture. | KYODO
Naha on Thursday. As the fourth wave of the pandemic continues to spread further and wider across the country, calls are growing for countermeasures to be expanded and extended to, at the very least, be in line with the end date for Okinawa Prefecture. | KYODO

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