Faced with rising numbers of coronavirus cases and a growing shortage of hospital beds, the leaders of the Kansai region declared a state of emergency Saturday for the New Year’s period, Eric Johnston reports. The announcement came just a few days after Osaka Prefecture declared its own state of emergency and called on the Self-Defense Forces to dispatch nurses to handle the growing number of seriously ill patients.

Tokyo confirmed 556 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, one day after the capital reported its second-highest daily figure of 736. The tally was a record high for a Sunday, bringing the number of cases for December over 10,000, another first.

Prefectural governors called on the central government Sunday to allow them to issue binding requests for restaurants to shorten hours, with penalties for those that don’t comply. Two days earlier, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reversed course on the issue, saying he now hoped to revise the relevant law in the next Diet session. Previously, the plan was to revise the law after the pandemic settles down.

Shoppers fill Takeshita street in Tokyo's Harajuku district Saturday. | KYODO
Shoppers fill Takeshita street in Tokyo’s Harajuku district Saturday. | KYODO

The governors also urged the central government Sunday to clear up confusion about criteria for suspending and resuming the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign, which is currently paused. The JT Editorial Board, on the other hand, argues “the campaign should be suspended immediately, and impacted businesses offered subsidies to help them through a difficult time. When infections recede and a vaccine is available, then it can resume.”

It continues: “The Japanese government continues to flail as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic. Its efforts are inconsistent, illogical and undermined by the actions of top officials. The government’s policies neither inspire confidence nor do they signal to the public the need to take this crisis seriously.”