• Kyodo, Jiji

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The top government spokesman on Sunday referred to the possibility of extending the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and seven other prefectures beyond its May 31 expiration date.

As the number of new infections remains high in these areas, the emergency is widely expected to be extended, possibly until June 20.

The government “will discuss whether to scale down (the state of emergency) to quasi-emergency measures, or whether to continue the declaration for a while, then bring (the nine prefectures) back to a normal state if the situation significantly improves,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on an NHK program.

In an effort to curb a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Hokkaido, Aichi, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures — with restaurants and bars told to close by 8 p.m. and to refrain from serving alcohol or offering karaoke.

On Sunday, the government officially placed Okinawa Prefecture under a state of emergency through June 20.

Kato indicated that, if extended, a new deadline for the nine prefectures could coincide with the June 20 expiration date for Okinawa.

“We are expected to see questions about setting different deadlines for each region, so we will consider them in groups,” he said.

Kato said the government will take into account the number of infections, the occupancy rates of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and data concerning people’s movements when making decisions about lifting the emergencies in the 10 prefectures.

Speaking during the same program, Keiichiro Kobayashi, a Keio University professor and a member of a government advisory panel on COVID-19 response, warned the government not to rush to end the emergency declarations.

“If the government hastily lifts the declarations, that would lead to a rebound (in the number of cases) and put a major brake on the economy,” Kobayashi said, urging the prime minister to give careful consideration to the timing to avoid a resurgence in infections.

Since April 12, Okinawa had been in the pre-emergency stage, which allows local authorities to take anti-virus steps similar to those under an emergency. Gov. Denny Tamaki requested that the state of emergency cover his prefecture following a recent spike in the number of new infections there.

The prefectural government is asking restaurants and bars offering alcoholic beverages and karaoke boxes to suspend operations temporarily.

On Saturday, the central government ended the coronavirus pre-emergency stage for Shikoku’s Ehime Prefecture earlier than the initially planned expiration date of May 31, based on a judgment that the prefecture’s situation had improved. The number of prefectures on the pre-emergency list now stands at eight.

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