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Coronavirus

Japan to add Okinawa to COVID state of emergency

As Tokyo Olympics nears, 10 prefectures will be under restrictions

Downtown Naha, Okinawa in March: The daily number of newly infected people in Okinawa crossed 200 for the first time on May 19.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan is considering an expansion of the state of emergency to include Okinawa, as the southern island prefecture sees coronavirus infections surge and medical resources strained.

This is the third time the government will expand the state of emergency since it was declared for Tokyo and the Osaka region last month.

The expanded SOE would mean that 10 prefectures will be affected by restrictions.

With the Tokyo Olympics only two months away, the nation is still struggling to contain the virus.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will make the decision Friday after consulting with an expert panel. With the expansion, the state of emergency would cover the prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Fukuoka, Aichi, Hokkaido, Hiroshima, Okayama and Okinawa. The current SOE is in effect until the end of May.  The declaration for Okinawa likely would start Sunday and continue until June 20.

On Wednesday, the daily number of newly infected people in Okinawa topped 200 for the first time, at 203. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters, "The number of new infections per 100,000 people in the last one week is at the same level as other areas that are subject to the state of emergency."

Okinawa is currently under a quasi-state of emergency, which gives the local government power to impose strict measures, such as asking restaurants to close early. When the full SOE comes into effect, authorities will be able to request restaurants and bars to close until further notice.

Opposition parties have already been criticizing the Suga administration for its poor handling of the crisis. Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, slammed the government during the news conference on Thursday, saying the government should expand the scope of the emergency declaration to all prefectures.

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