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Tokyo set to seek extension of COVID emergency until May 31

Mutant strains becoming dominant in capital, says Gov. Koike

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says an extension of the COVID-19 state of emergency beyond May 11 is needed to contain the infection surge. (Photo by Tetsuya Kitayama)

TOKYO (Reuters) -- Japan's capital will seek to extend until May 31 its state of emergency aimed at curbing coronavirus infections, Governor Yuriko Koike said on Thursday, a move that could spark more questions about its ability to host the Olympics.

Japan had hoped a "short and powerful" emergency would contain a fourth wave of infections just under three months before Tokyo is set to host the Olympic Games from July 23.

While the measure now running from April 25 until Tuesday has not damped a surge of new infections, continuing it until May 31 leaves a margin of less than two months before the Games, already postponed by a year over the pandemic.

"Based on the analyses from various angles, my thinking is that we need an extension of the state of emergency," Koike said.

Tokyo's neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama will also seek to extend their partial states of emergency until the end of May, the regional governors agreed in a video meeting with Koike.

As mutant virus strains become dominant, more younger people are falling victim, fuelling concern that the surge could surpass the third wave that crested in January, Koike said. She urged people to curtail movement as a way to limit the spread.

Japan has not suffered as badly from the virus as other nations, but its vaccination campaign is lagging badly, with even many elderly people still waiting for inoculations.

Still, Japan and the International Olympic Committee insist the Olympics will go on, though foreign spectators have been banned.

A decision on the number of Japanese spectators is still awaited, but detailed safety rules for the event were unveiled last week.

"We are now focusing on fighting the invisible enemy that is the virus, so that we can provide a safe and secure environment for all," Koike told an earlier online conference.

"The Tokyo 2020 Games are a highly significant event that serves as a beacon of hope for the world."

Tokyo added 591 new cases on Thursday. About 10,500 people have died nationwide since the pandemic began.

On Wednesday, three sources had told Reuters that officials were leaning toward extending the emergency beyond May 11 in the prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, a region that encompasses nearly a quarter of Japan's population.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura will also seek an extension from the central government. Osaka recorded 747 new cases on Thursday.

"I think we cannot help but to ask for an extension," Yoshimura told a meeting of experts, adding that the region's medical system was being strained to its limit.

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