Japan's government on Friday proposed states of emergency through Aug. 31 in three prefectures near Olympic host Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as COVID-19 cases spike to records, overshadowing the Summer Games, APA reports citing Reuters.
Existing states of emergency for Tokyo - its fourth since the pandemic began - and southern Okinawa island should also be extended to Aug. 31, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is spearheading Japan's pandemic response, told a panel of experts in announcing the proposed expansion.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to formally announce the move later on Friday after the experts approved it.
Japan has avoided a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, but is now struggling to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant, with daily cases nationwide topping 10,000 for the first time on Thursday, media reported.
Japan has imposed a series of "state of emergency" declarations, but the orders are mostly voluntary, unlike other countries which impose strict lockdowns.
Many people have grown weary of the stay-home requests, with some bars refusing to adhere to service restrictions, and Japan's vaccination rollout lags.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the country had entered a new "extremely frightening" stage as cases are spiking even though the movement of people was not increasing, and said the highly transmissible Delta variant was a big factor.
"I think that people cannot see ahead and, worrying how long this situation will last, they find it unbearable that they cannot return to normal daily life," he told the panel.
The surge in COVID-19 cases is bad news for Suga, whose support rates are already at their lowest since he took office last September and who faces a ruling party leadership race and general election later this year.
Tokyo announced a record 3,865 daily infections on Thursday, up from 3,177 a day earlier. The surge is beginning to strain the medical system, with 64% of Tokyo's hospital beds available for serious COVID-19 cases already filled as of Wednesday.