Officials in conflict over Tokyo area’s state of emergency

As Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide considers whether to extend a state of emergency for the greater Tokyo area, officials in the affected prefectures are split. Saitama’s governor wants to maintain the restrictions, while his counterpart in Kanagawa insists it’s time to lift the declaration.

The already extended measure that covers the capital plus Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures is set to expire on Sunday. Suga will evaluate the stalled pace of decline in new cases during deliberations on whether it stays in place.

On Monday, Tokyo reported 175 new cases of the coronavirus. That's 59 more than last Monday. It's been a similar picture for the past week, with each day's tally higher than a week earlier.

Daily COVID19 cases in Tokyo

At the same time, government data shows that hospital bed occupancy rates are improving. Compared with a week earlier, Tokyo has fallen from 28 percent to 25 percent, Saitama from 41 percent to 39 percent, Chiba 46 percent to 41 percent, and Kanagawa 27 percent to 25 percent.

Bed occupancy rate for four prefectures

Suga told a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday that it is too early to tell whether the state of emergency needs to continue.
"The pace of decline in new cases has leveled off recently. We will listen to experts' views before making a final decision," he says. "I cannot tell under current conditions whether we should extend the declaration or not."

Chiba’s governor, Morita Kensaku, is wary about lifting the restrictions, citing the emergence of new strains that are said to be more contagious.
"We have to halt the spread of the variants,” says Morita. "The number of people being infected has to be reduced, before the state of emergency should be lifted."

Chiba Prefecture reported its first cluster of infections from a coronavirus variant on Monday. Variants have been detected in 17 positive cases, 12 of which have been traced to a restaurant where customers sang karaoke.

Saitama Governor Ono Motohiro has already made up his mind. "The rate of decline in new cases has started to slow recently in Saitama.” Ono says. “There are now signs that new case numbers are starting to go up again." He says that shows Saitama is not ready for the state of emergency to end.

In Kanagawa, it is a different story, according to Governor Kuroiwa Yuji. He says the prefecture has already met the criteria for the state of emergency to be lifted.
"I feel people in Kanagawa are growing frustrated by all the restrictions," says Kuroiwa, adding if new infections increase once again, he would immediately reinstate measures to stop the spread.

Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko says the city is stepping up its efforts to secure more beds for COVID-19 patients. She warns that this will result in fewer beds for patients with other illnesses.
"We want people to follow the basics to ensure they do not get infected, and do not get other people infected," says Koike.

A government decision is expected later this week – possibly on Thursday – on whether the state of emergency will remain or end as scheduled.