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Tokyo and 12 prefectures ask to extend elevated COVID measures

Japan struggles to contain high transmissions of omicron valiant

People wearing masks walk by Tokyo's Shibuya scramble crossing on Feb. 8 amid a new wave of infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo and 12 other prefectures currently under a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency have requested an extension to the measure set to end this weekend, the prefectural governments said Tuesday.

Japan has been struggling to stem a new wave of infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus.

The central government will "promptly consider the requests," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to make a decision at a COVID-19 government task force meeting Thursday.

The requests were made by the capital and three of the neighboring prefectures -- Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa -- as well as Gunma, Niigata, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki.

The government is eyeing a three-week extension from the original end date of Sunday for the 13 prefectures, government sources have said.

Kochi Prefecture has also requested to be added to the quasi-emergency, which currently covers 35 of Japan's 47 prefectures, the sources said.

Quasi-emergency measures involve restricting business hours of restaurants and bars, as well as a request to refrain from nonessential travel between prefectures in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

COVID-linked deaths hit a record high of 159 on Tuesday, with nationwide daily cases topping 100,000 for the fifth consecutive day. Tokyo accounted for 17,113 of the new COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the health ministry released new hospitalization guidelines that will allow COVID-19 patients not requiring oxygen or other medical support to be discharged after four days at the doctor's discretion.

The shortening of the hospitalization period from 10 days aims to free up beds for the elderly and those whose symptoms may suddenly worsen amid rising bed occupancy rates for COVID patients in various regions.

Weekly cases of ambulances struggling to find a hospital to take patients have also hit record highs for the fourth week in a row, with 36% of the cases believed to be coronavirus-related.

While doctors have been able to discharge patients early if deemed appropriate, the health ministry has indicated a revised hospitalization period taking into account the characteristics of the omicron variant of the virus.

According to data from the National Hospital Organization, only 0.9% of 1,321 patients hospitalized in 67 hospitals nationwide in January had symptoms worsen to the point of requiring oxygen support after a four-day hospitalization period.

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