People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk on a street in Tokyo Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Tokyo has been under what it calls a state of emergency. AP
Japan's ``state of emergency'' for curbing surging COVID-19 cases will continue through Sept. 12 rather than ending at the end of this month as initially planned, the government decided Monday
With the pandemic continuing to spread in the country, the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other regions which started in July would be prolonged and expanded.
The measures were enforced throughout the recently-concluded Tokyo Olympics, which took place with no spectators from the general public allowed in the stands. With the latest extension, they emergency will remain in force the Tokyo Paralympics, which open Aug. 24 and close on Sept. 5.
``The surge in infections is reaching alarming record highs,'' , Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after meeting with other ministers about the move.
The decision will become official Tuesday, Suga said, adding that beefing up hospital care was ``a priority,'' and people waiting at home to get hospitalized were getting checkups by phone.
Japan's emergency centers around asking eateries and bars to close at 8:00 p.m. and to not serve alcohol. The measure will also be expanded to apply to several prefectures such as Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, currently under a less severe cautionary ``quasi-emergency.''
Daily reported cases have been reaching record highs in many areas, hovering at about 5,000 each day during the last week for Tokyo. The tally was lower on Monday at under 3,000, but still a a record for a Monday, when, which cover the previous 24 hours are generally lower following the weekend.
Local mayors and governors have prodded the national government to get emergencies declared to send a stronger message to discourage people from going out.
``We feel the situation has reached an extremely serious and critical state that puts human life at risk,'' said Eikei Suzuki, governor of Mie Prefecture, central Japan, where numbers of infections have jumped lately.
Only about a third of the nation's population has been fully vaccinated even while the highly infectious delta variant is reportedly spreading. Japan's vaccine rollout got off to a relatively late start and is proceeding at a pace that's one of the slowest among industrialized nations.
Critics say the government has not done enough to respond to the coronavirus crisis in organizing the hospital system overall to accommodate those with COVID-19.
Japan has had more than 15,000 COVID-19 related deaths and worries have been growing about the health care system becoming increasingly stretched thin. Japanese media reports have shown people stuck in ambulances for hours looking for a hospital to accept them.
A man in his 30s who lived alone died of the coronavirus recently after his condition suddenly deteriorated, despite having earlier visited a hospital, TBS News reported. The Health Ministry said the number of seriously ill people has now reached a record 1,603 people nationwide.
Violent protests are extremely rare in Japan, where public order and conformity are highly valued. However, surveys and on-the-street interviews show public discontent is simmering because the government has gone ahead with holding the Olympics and Paralympics, allowing tens of thousands of athletes, corporate sponsors and sports officials to enter the country. The events have also required thousands of medical staff, and massive virus testing is being provided to athletes free of charge.