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Some government officials believe they may not be able to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency in place in parts of the country at the end of this month as planned.

There are no signs yet of infection cases reaching a peak amid the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Prefectural government officials are calling for stronger measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including shutdown requests for large-scale commercial facilities.

At a news conference on Tuesday, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s COVID-19 response, said that infections “continue to grow at an unprecedented pace.”

Referring to the increase in severely ill COVID-19 patients, Nishimura said, “We may end up failing to save lives that could normally be saved.”

Data from the Cabinet Secretariat showed that the number of severely ill patients across the nation as of Monday had tripled from mid-July to 1,230.

Experts released an estimate recently that daily new cases in Tokyo may top 10,000 in mid-August. A government official said that “it may be impossible to lift the state of emergency.”

At present, the state of emergency is in place in Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, as well as Osaka and Okinawa prefectures.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said that infection cases will fall once 40% of the population receive at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

Cases keep growing even after the vaccination rate achieved the threshold, however. Central government officials increasingly believe that it will be difficult for the time being to achieve herd immunity.

Some central government officials had called for downgrading the definition of COVID-19 to an illness on par with seasonal flu under the infectious disease law.

Dismissing such optimistic views, one expert said Japan “should first focus on addressing the ongoing fifth wave of infections.”

Governors representing the prefectures under the state of emergency have found that existing restrictions focusing on restaurants and bars have had only limited effects in containing the pandemic.

Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa has proposed limiting the number of passengers traveling on airplanes and trains. Chiba Gov. Toshihito Kumagai said large-scale commercial facilities across the Tokyo metropolitan region should be asked to close.

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