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Coronavirus

Japan to extend COVID emergency through end of May

Formal decision expected on Friday, with Aichi and Fukuoka to be added

Commuters shuffle across a street in Tokyo's Marunouchi business district on May 6 after the long Golden Week holidays. (Photo by Yo Inoue)

TOKYO -- Japan is preparing to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and three prefectures until the end of May, as infections remain stubbornly high and hospitals face capacity limits.

Under the plan, the state of emergency, covering the capital and the greater Osaka region, will be expanded to include Aichi and Fukuoka Prefectures. The government will make a formal decision on Friday.

The order, initially slated to last 17 days through May 11, was primarily aimed at discouraging outings during the Golden Week holiday that ended on Wednesday.

"I would like to decide [on the time frame and areas to be covered] tomorrow after consulting with experts regarding the extension of the state of emergency," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday evening.

"Pedestrian traffic declined during Golden Week, and I would like to thank the public for cooperation," he said.

Hakata Station in Fukuoka: Japan's southwestern prefecture of Fukoka will be added to an expanded coronavirus state of emergency. (Photo by Yoshikazu Imahori)

Japan is expected to maintain the ban on serving alcohol at restaurants and bars, while continuing to ask such establishments to close at 8 p.m. But with the Golden Week holidays concluded, the central government likely will drop its request that department stores and other large commercial facilities close, leaving that decision to municipalities.

Stores with more than 1,000 sq. meters of floor space have been asked to suspend operations under the current state of emergency, except for the sale of necessities.

Spectators are prohibited at sports events and concerts, as a rule. But this is expected to be eased to allow 5,000 people in big venues and 50% capacity in smaller places.

But the number of new COVID-19 infections has continued to rise in Japan. More than 1,000 people have been reported to have been in serious condition, and hospital beds remain in short supply

"The situation does not warrant the lifting of the [emergency] declaration," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Thursday citing the sharp increase in more infectious coronavirus variants. Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura stressed that "infections remain high and hospitals are at their capacity."

Japan also looks to expand general COVID restrictions in prefectures that are seeing rising infections, in addition to the seven prefectures already under stricter rules. Five prefectures, including Saitama and Chiba, requested the extension of COVID measures on Thursday. The central government is expected to add Hokkaido, Gifu and Mie to the list.

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