Japan is planning to extend its COVID-19 state of emergency, currently slated to expire on Sept. 12, multiple government sources said Saturday.
The emergency measure, which is in place in Tokyo and 20 other prefectures around the country, may be lifted in regions where the strain on the health care system has eased.
The government’s coronavirus response task force is expected to formally decide on the extension after gathering the opinions of local governments and infectious disease experts.
Although cases have either peaked or are already in decline in Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi and their surrounding prefectures, the number of new infections in the regions still have the prefectures in Stage 4, the worst level on the country’s four-stage pandemic alert system. The number of available hospital beds for COVID-19 patients remains low in the major metropolitan regions.
Many in the government are beginning to believe that an extension is unavoidable for major cities.
“It goes without saying that the Tokyo metropolitan area needs an extension,” an infectious disease expert said.
The government will determine the length of the extension based on infection levels and the number of hospital beds available. An extension through to the end of September has been floated, according to the sources.
Meanwhile, some prefectures are seeing their hospital bed occupancy rates decline to levels corresponding to Stage 3 even as infection numbers remaining at Stage 4 levels. Some prefectures have ample beds available for those with severe symptoms.
In those areas, the government plans to lift the state of emergency and impose less strict quasi-emergency measures instead, the sources said.
The government hopes to seek advice on the standards for lifting the emergency from experts at an upcoming meeting of the government subcommittee on coronavirus measures.
It will also decide whether to lift the pre-emergency measures currently imposed on 12 prefectures, based on input from local communities.
Japan has seen progress in its vaccination drive, especially among older people, and hopes to complete inoculations for all willing citizens by this autumn.
The country’s coronavirus response task force also plans to discuss a roadmap for loosening restrictions on dining and events for those who have been vaccinated and those who have tested negative via PCR tests.
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