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Osaka and Kyoto call for COVID-19 state of emergency

Five more Japanese prefectures seek government order for tougher restrictions

The Minami shopping and dining district in Osaka last month. Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has called for restrictions to stem the spread of record cases there. (Photo by Yuichiro Takagi)

OSAKA/KYOTO -- The governors of the greater Osaka area urged the Japanese government to expand its coronavirus state of emergency to include their prefectures, as the localities set daily records for the spread of infections.

A state of emergency declared on Thursday covered Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures. The governors of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo have decided to make a formal request to be added to that list.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki and Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido issued the request to Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of the government's response to the pandemic, during an online meeting.

While stating that the three prefectures "are in an extremely serious situation where an emergency declaration is being considered," Nishimura said he would make a decision after "careful assessment" of the situation and status of the medical system.

On Saturday, Hyogo again reported a daily record of 324 cases, while Osaka logged 647, its second-highest so far. Japan's death total also surpassed 4,000, reaching the milestone just half a month after the figure topped 3,000 on Dec. 22 and underscoring rapidly rising fatalities in line with surging infections.

Aichi Prefecture, which is home to the city of Nagoya, and Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, also plan to make a similar request.

"We will take action by coordinating with those regions," said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. He instructed Nishimura, the government's top official in charge of COVID-19 measures, to come up with a response.

"Cases have surged in the past two days, and we need to take the same restrictions as the capital region immediately," Osaka Gov. Yoshimura said at a Thursday meeting.

"Kyoto's new cases per 100,000 people are extremely high, so we must act quickly," Kyoto Gov. Nishiwaki also said.

Osaka's new cases are largely attributed to parties and other end-of-year gatherings. Weekly infections surged 38% in the first week of this month after falling steadily in December.

Roughly 70% of hospital beds dedicated to coronavirus patients with sever symptoms are occupied in Osaka, and the prefecture is eager to curb the spread before the situation deteriorates further.

According to the health ministry, the hospital-bed occupancy rate exceeded 50% as of Tuesday, a criterion for Stage 4 -- the worst on Japan's scale for measuring the pandemic's severity -- in 11 prefectures.

Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures have asked bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. under the government's emergency decree. Such requests have now spread to nearly 20 other prefectures, including Osaka and Kyoto prefectures.

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