Panel approves expansion of emergency declaration

An advisory panel of experts has approved the Japanese government's plan to expand the coronavirus state of emergency to eight more prefectures.

Nishimura Yasutoshi is the minister in charge of the coronavirus response. He told the panel on Wednesday that Japan is seeing more than 20,000 new cases every day. Nishimura indicated that this proves the highly contagious Delta variant is sweeping across the nation.

He said infections have surged, the number of severely-ill patients has climbed to record highs, and medical services are under enormous strain.

Tokyo and 12 other prefectures are already under a state of emergency. Panel members agreed to add Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Okayama and Hiroshima to the list.

They also approved a plan to put Kochi, Saga, Nagasaki and Miyazaki prefectures under a "quasi-emergency," so that restrictions can be imposed in targeted areas. Eight prefectures are already under this quasi-emergency.

The measures will take effect on Friday in the new regions and last through September 12 in all the areas.

Nishimura said medical services will be immediately revamped in the targeted prefectures. He proposed setting up oxygen stations, securing more nurses and increasing the use of an antibody cocktail treatment.

Nishimura added that thorough anti-infection measures will be in place at schools as they reopen for the new term.

He suggested expanding the use of online classes, asking local governments to give vaccine priority to teachers and staff, and handing out antigen test kits to kindergartens, elementary and junior high schools.

The expansion of the state of emergency and the quasi-emergency will be formalized at a government task force meeting on Wednesday evening, after the Diet has been briefed.