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Despite a recent decrease in the numbers of new COVID-19 infections each day, the situation in Kansai remains precarious, with Osaka Prefecture preparing to discuss a request to have its state of emergency extended into June.

“It’s a very serious situation with the number of seriously ill patients and a lack of hospital beds. It’s not one where we can discuss lifting the state of emergency,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters on Friday.

At a Wednesday evening meeting of an expert panel that advises the health ministry, Takaji Wakita, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the panel’s head, warned that the situation in the Kansai region remains serious — particularly in Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, which are under a state of emergency due to end May 31.

“Although we’re finally starting to see a decrease in the number of Kansai-area infections, we have to see whether this trend will continue. It’s difficult to say if the state of emergency in Kansai can be lifted at the end of the month,” Wakita told reporters Wednesday night.

Osaka recorded 501 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, compared to 761 a week earlier, on May 13. In Hyogo, Thursday’s total was 209 cases, compared to 361 on May 13. Kyoto recorded 127 new cases Thursday, down from 156 a week earlier.

But despite the numerical decreases, the overall situation remains critical, especially in Osaka. A shortage of beds meant patients earlier this month were forced to wait in makeshift emergency stations before being formally admitted to hospital.

Prefectural officials announced Thursday that 86 patients waited at the stations between April 22 and May 15, but there have been no patients at these stations since May 16. While they were there, the prefecture said, there was an average waiting period of 10 hours before being admitted to a medical facility. In one case, a woman in her 70s who was admitted to a station on April 25 was not admitted to a hospital until April 27, having waited for 51 hours.

A Hanshin Tigers baseball game takes place without spectators at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on April 30. | KYODO
A Hanshin Tigers baseball game takes place without spectators at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on April 30. | KYODO

In Osaka, the occupancy rate of beds for seriously ill patients stood at 149% Thursday, while in Hyogo the rate was 76.6% as of that night. In Kyoto, the occupancy rate for hospital beds set aside for seriously ill patients stood at 60.5%.

A prefectural task force will meet next week to assess the situation, and discuss whether to request a state of emergency from the central government, Yoshimura said Thursday.

Whether an extension would involve the same measures Osaka is now under, which includes a request to department stores and other large-scale commercial facilities over 1,000 square meters to close, is not clear. Yoshimura said it was natural to discuss the possibility of relaxing some measures under an extended state of emergency, but that it was too early to make a decision.

In contrast, similar-sized facilities in Kyoto and Hyogo are open until 7 p.m. weekdays and have been asked to close only on weekends.

The governor declined to discuss the length of extension he might request. Kansai media reports on Friday said it could be for two or three weeks.

Kyoto's Shimogamo Shrine canceled its Aoi Festival in Kyoto on May 15.  | KYODO
Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine canceled its Aoi Festival in Kyoto on May 15. | KYODO

As for vaccines, initial plans for mass vaccination centers in the Kansai area call for eight facilities to be established — three each in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures and two in Kyoto Prefecture.

In Osaka, a center run by the central government is expected to start vaccinating older people from Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto on Monday and inoculate up to 5,000 people per day. Another center, run by Osaka Prefecture, is to be established by mid-June and designed to vaccinate up to 2,000 residents of the prefecture per day. A municipal center for residents of the city of Osaka will also open in mid-June, and is expected to vaccinate 3,500 people per day.

In Hyogo, 2,000 Kobe residents will be able to get vaccinated each day at a city-run center opening on May 25. Two more centers run by Hyogo Prefecture will open by mid-June and, collectively, will handle 500 to 1,000 people per day.

In Kyoto, two prefectural centers, one in Kameoka and one just south of the city of Kyoto, near the border with Nara Prefecture, are planned. Both centers are due to open in mid-June and vaccinate a total of 2,400 people per day.

Additional Kansai-area vaccination centers are planned, but no details have been released on when they will start vaccinations or where they will be located.

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