Panel backs tougher virus steps for Tokyo

The Japanese government's panel of experts has approved a plan to allow Tokyo and the prefectures of Kyoto and Okinawa to apply stricter anti-coronavirus measures.

The panel gave approval on Friday at a meeting attended by Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, who is also in charge of the coronavirus response.

The minister said he has a strong sense of crisis as the number of new cases continues to rise across the country and new variants of the virus are spreading.

He told the panel that the government plans to allow Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa to put intensive measures in place starting from Monday, to be lifted on May 5 in Kyoto and Okinawa, and on May 11 in Tokyo.

The governors will decide which areas to target in their prefectures.

But Nishimura said stronger measures are expected to cover 23 wards and the cities of Hachioji, Tachikawa, Musashino, Fuchu, Chofu and Machida in Tokyo, the city of Kyoto, and nine cities in Okinawa, including Naha City.

Nishimura also said people will be requested to refrain from travel outside their areas and non-essential outings.

The minister noted new variants are more transmissible and have a higher risk of the illness becoming severe. He said the government will step up anti-infection measures in response.

The government is expected to formally decide on the plan at a task force meeting on Friday after it is presented to the Diet.

Stricter measures have already been put in place in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures.