Japan mulls expanding COVID-19 state of emergency

The Japanese government is considering expanding its state of emergency in an effort to counter a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

The declaration currently covers Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. It went into effect last Friday and will remain in place until February 7.

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide updated members of his ruling coalition about the situation on Tuesday.

Suga said, "Outside the Tokyo area... infections are spreading rapidly in Osaka and other prefectures. The government will consider expanding the state of emergency to cover these."

Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures are expected to be included in the measure as early as Wednesday.

The governors of Tochigi, Aichi and Gifu prefectures have also asked that the declaration be applied in their prefectures.

A state of emergency is less strict in Japan than in many western countries. It gives prefectural governors legal authority to urge residents to cooperate with prevention efforts. But there are no legal penalties for failing to comply.

Officials in Tokyo reported 970 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday... after a long weekend. 144 people in the capital are in serious condition. That figure is the highest to date.

Experts say the strain on the medical system in the capital is much more serious than during the first wave of infections in last spring.

President of Tokyo Medical Association Ozaki Haruo said, "If the daily tally of new infections in Tokyo remains as high as 2,000 , it will be difficult to keep up. As soon as we expand capacity... it is filled immediately."

Officials from the central government have consulted with lawmakers from the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party about plans to revise a key anti-virus law.

It would enable prefectural governors to take pre-emptive measures before a state of emergency is declared. It would also allow penalties for businesses that do not comply with requests to shorten their operating hours.

Across the country, health authorities reported more than 4,500 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.