Japan has announced that it will raise the coronavirus alert level in Tokyo to allow tougher measures to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Japan’s national vaccination drive has lagged and most people in the capital have still not been inoculated as infections have surged.
The raised status announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will allow Tokyo’s governor to mandate shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, along with punishments for violators and compensation for those who comply.
The measures are to begin on Monday and continue through until May 11.
Many of Tokyo’s cases have been linked to nightlife and dining, though they have recently spread to offices, elderly care facilities and schools, experts say.
Mr Suga also raised the alert level for Kyoto in western Japan and the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, where cases have surged in recent weeks.
The new status there is to continue through until May 5, the end of Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays, to discourage travelling.
The steps come less than three weeks after a non-binding state of emergency was lifted for Tokyo and underscore the difficulty of balancing anti-virus measures and the economy.
Mr Suga’s government has been criticised for being too slow in enacting anti-virus measures out of a reluctance to further damage the pandemic-hit economy.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga makes the announcement during a government task force meeting at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo (Eugene Hoshiko/ Pool/AP)
Osaka has declared a medical emergency after its hospitals became overwhelmed with new cases and has moved next week’s Olympic torch relay there off public roads.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who on Thursday asked Mr Suga’s government to boost the capital’s alert level, said she is alarmed by the recent rise in virus cases and the possible impact of new variants.
She urged residents to avoid non-essential trips and practise social distancing.
Ms Koike is expected to issue an order for bars and restaurants to close at 8pm.
Just over one million people in Japan, or less than 1% of the population, have received the first of two vaccine doses, and the surge in cases may cause further cancellations of Olympic-related events