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Japan extends COVID-19 emergency lockdown as cases surge

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By Reuters

By Sakura Murakami and Daniel Leussink

FUKUOKA/TOKYO -Japan on Tuesday extended its state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions and announced new measures covering seven more prefectures to counter a spike in COVID-19 cases threatening the medical system.

The current state of emergency, the fifth of the pandemic so far, was due to expire on Aug. 31 but will now last until Sept. 12. Tokyo announced 4,377 new cases on Tuesday, after a record 5,773 on Friday.

“The Delta variant raging across the world is causing unprecedented cases in our country,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “Serious cases are increasing rapidly and severely burdening the medical system, particularly in the capital region.”

The state of emergency will now cover nearly 60% of Japan’s population, as the prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka are included. Less strict “quasi-emergency” measures will be applied to a further 10 prefectures.

Restaurants will be asked to close early and stop serving alcohol in exchange for a subsidy. Suga said the government would also request occupancy limits at department stores and ask people to reduce by half the times they go to crowded areas.

Japanese shares fell https://www.reuters.com/article/japan-stocks-close/nikkei-falls-for-fourth-day-as-virus-worries-outweigh-upbeat-earnings-cheer-idUSL4N2PO1EB for a fourth day on Tuesday as concerns about the fast-spreading Delta variant overshadowed optimism about upbeat earnings.

Japan’s case fatality rate stands at about 1.3%, relative to 1.7% in the United States and 2.1% in Britain.

But health experts fear deaths could spike in Japan as the Delta variant rages through the younger population and hospitals become too crowded to treat serious cases.

“Many experts expressed an extremely strong sense of crisis about the medical care situation and the status of infections,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said after consulting with health advisers.

Over 80% of Tokyo’s critical care beds are occupied, and the rate is already 100% in neighbouring Kanagawa prefecture. Serious cases climbed to records of 276 in Tokyo and 1,646 nationwide on Tuesday.

Dai-ichi Life Research Institute estimated that the government’s extended and expanded state of emergency would lead to a total economic loss of about 1.2 trillion yen ($11 billion) and could cost 66,000 jobs.

That was about 60% higher than an expected loss of about 750 billion yen if the emergency remained at its current scope and schedule.

Repeated states of emergency have had a limited effect in slowing the spread of the virus in Japan as cooperation is voluntary.

Takuto Honda, a 20-year-old university student in southwestern Fukuoka city who works part-time at a karaoke shop, said a harder lockdown with government pay-outs would be more effective.

“If there is money to host the Olympics, there should be money to compensate us,” he said.

Pandemic fatigue and summer vacations have also been blamed for contributing to the latest COVID-19 surge in a nation where only around 37% of people have been fully vaccinated.

($1 = 109.2900 yen)