• Kyodo, Jiji

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Prefectural governors on Saturday expressed concerns over the potential impact of the central government's plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the near future.

The governors said the announcement of the plan to relax curbs around November once most of the population has been vaccinated could make the public too optimistic about the pandemic situation at a time when coronavirus infections are still spreading.

The group of prefectural governors asked the national government to carefully consider specifics when easing restrictions, including details such as areas where the restrictions would be relaxed and when the restrictions would be scaled down.

The request is part of a set of proposals the association adopted during a National Governors' Association videoconference.

The government decided Thursday to extend the state of emergency through to Sept. 30 in 19 prefectures.

Japan continues to see a large number of infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant, putting a strain on the country's health care system. Some COVID-19 patients who were denied hospitalization have died while recuperating at home, highlighting the seriousness of the hospital bed shortage.

"If the restrictions are eased too quickly and preventive measures such as wearing masks are neglected, the virus will spread," Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto said during the meeting.

The government's unveiling of its plans for a loosening of restrictions comes amid growing calls to restart economic activity as businesses, particularly in the food services and tourism sectors, reel from the fallout of the pandemic.

Under the plan, the government will no longer require restaurants in prefectures under the emergency to refrain from serving alcohol and close early, so long as they are certified as having measures in place to prevent infections. People also won't be discouraged from dining in larger groups, traveling across prefectural borders or going to large events with more than 5,000 attendees if they have been fully vaccinated or provide negative test results.

The governors' association also requested that the government set up a forum with local governments and the governors' group for talks on a strategy toward easing COVID-19 restrictions and discuss a specific vaccination rate needed for relaxing the restrictions.

The association urged the central government to hold debates on a legal system that would allow for stronger coronavirus measures and the establishment of a body that will comprehensively handle infectious disease countermeasures.

Noting that the coronavirus situation remains serious, the association urged the national government to call on people to continue refraining from travel across prefectural borders in principle this autumn.

The governors' group added that the government should allow for the domestic use of coronavirus vaccination certificates and show details regarding the issuance of certificates for COVID-19 negative test results.

Moreover, the association called on the state to devise support measures for businesses, such as covering losses from the postponements and cancellations of large-scale festivals and other events.

The videoconference was attended by 45 governors.

Hideyo Hanazumi, governor of Niigata Prefecture, welcomed the start of talks on the exit strategy.

But many participants expressed concerns that holding talks on the pandemic exit strategy could lead the public to feel overly optimistic.

"I'm concerned that (such discussions) may cause people to lower their guard," Tatsuji Sugimoto, governor of Fukui Prefecture, said.

The talks should not cause confusion among people or make them less alert, said Tomikazu Fukuda, governor of Tochigi Prefecutre, urging the government to ask the public again to take thorough measures against the coronavirus.

Hodo Nakamura, governor of Nagasaki Prefecture, said that the government needs to give explanations so as not to mislead the public.

Some governors called for discussions on binding measures, such as lockdowns, and over issues related to the administration of booster shots.

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