Rising coronavirus cases in parts of the country are triggering worries amid reflection one year after the government announced its first state of emergency. The authorities are tackling the latest spikes, while hoping the vaccine rollout will help stem the surge.
Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in the west, and Miyagi in the north have been given the green light to strengthen anti-virus measures. The new designation came into effect Monday, and will remain in place for a month.
Officials with the central and local governments made the decision in response to another surge in local cases.
Osaka has been reporting the highest number of infections across the country, exceeding the daily tally in Tokyo for 6 days in a row, now thanks to a more infectious variant of the virus.
The designation gives prefectural governors the power to choose what steps to take.
They've opted for similar measures as with a state of emergency: asking bars and restaurants in big cities to close by 8 p.m., stop using karaoke machines, and refuse customers who don't take precautions.
Businesses that fail to comply can face fines of up to 2,700 dollars, although that's less than under an emergency declaration.
President of Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases Tateda Kazuhiro said, "We need to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus based on the lessons we've learned over the past year. That includes the greater Tokyo area, which should watch and learn from what Osaka is experiencing now."
Some are hoping Japan's vaccination rollout could help flatten the curve. Medical workers started receiving the jab in February. Over 1.1 million shots have been administered since then. People aged 65 or older are next in line. There are about 36 million of them, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the population.
The health ministry plans to start distributing doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming days for this next phase of the rollout. The city of Hachioji in Tokyo has already started taking reservations for appointments starting Monday.
Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi said, "The elderly are more at risk of developing serious symptoms, so we want to make sure they get vaccinated quickly. And the younger generation can spread the virus without showing symptoms, so we hope they will be able to get their shots in good time as well."
By the end of June, the Japanese government says it should have enough doses for seniors in the country to receive both shots. The hope is that help curb infections and reduce the strain on the medical system.