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Coronavirus

Tougher virus restrictions expanded in Japan metropolitan areas

More prefectures near Tokyo face tighter rules until May 11

Kanagawa is among four prefectures that were added to a list of areas subject to tougher measures as Japan faces another wave of COVID-19 infections.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government decided Friday to expand tougher COVID-19 restrictions to all three of the country's major metropolitan areas centering on Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya as infections surge less than a month after a state of emergency was lifted.

Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama along with Aichi were added to the list of prefectures subject to the measures, including asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. with fines for noncompliance. The steps will take effect Tuesday and remain in place through the Golden Week holidays until May 11. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato finalized the decision in place of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is currently on a trip to the United States, at a coronavirus task force meeting.

The tougher restrictions under what has been called a quasi-state of emergency will cover a total of 10 prefectures. Such measures were implemented in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi on April 5, with Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa added on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in Japan have steadily increased after a state of emergency was lifted in steps before finally ending in the Tokyo metropolitan area on March 21. The nationwide tally topped 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Thursday, just under 100 days before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin.

Osaka, the epicenter of the current surge in infections, saw a record 1,209 cases on Friday, while Tokyo reported 667, Aichi 224, Kanagawa 209 and Saitama 163.

An expert panel on Friday morning approved the decision to place tougher restrictions in more areas. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the COVID-19 response, expressed concern over the rapid spread of highly contagious variants, including some believed to cause serious symptoms at a higher rate.

"We have to act with an extremely strong sense of caution," he said, later telling reporters the government would consider adding another prefecture, Nara, to the list if necessary.

Health experts have warned that the situation could worsen during Golden Week from late April through early May, one of the year's busiest periods for travel.

The government is calling on people to refrain from making trips between prefectures, and also asking them to avoid crowds when shopping and not using karaoke machines at eateries.

Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura and his counterparts near Tokyo had asked the government Thursday to give them the authority to impose the tougher restrictions, made possible by a legal revision in February. They will be able to impose a maximum fine of 200,000 yen ($1,800) on restaurants and bars failing to follow the mandate to close early, though the measures will only be in place in some cities including Yokohama and Nagoya.

Similar restrictions during the state of emergency, which carries a heavier fine for noncompliance, were largely successful in bringing down infections.

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