Tokyo and Osaka extend state of emergency

Japan's government has extended a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and seven other prefectures. It was set to be lifted this week – but will instead remain in place until June 20.

Declining infection figures suggest the declaration is having an effect in the two population centers. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 260 new cases on Monday, marking the 18th straight day of week-on-week declines. The daily tally was below 300 for the first time since April 5.

The new deadline means affected residents will have spent nearly two months under the restrictions by the end of the declaration. A spike in foot traffic suggests some are already running out of patience. Mobile phone data shows crowd numbers around Tokyo Station and Shibuya's Scramble Crossing were up on Sunday compared to the weekend and holiday average over the past four weeks.

"Case numbers could rebound quickly," warns Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko. "I'm very concerned that the movement of people could return to normal levels."

Graph: Daily COVID-19 cases in Tokyo

Osaka is also seeing cases fall. Officials reported 98 new infections on Monday, the first time since late March that the number was in double digits.

Nonetheless, Governor Yoshimura Hirofumi is urging people to remain on alert.

"We have to reduce the number of cases as much as possible during the state of emergency," he says. "That way we can ease the pressure on the healthcare system. This is very important."

Graph: Daily COVID-19 cases in Osaka

As the situation improves in Japan's two main cities, the island prefecture of Okinawa is under heavy strain. It tallied 142 new cases on Monday, a record high for the first day of the working week, and has confirmed more than 100 daily infections for two weeks straight. Last month, the prefecture entered its first coronavirus-related state of emergency.

"The situation in Okinawa is dire," says Governor Tamaki Denny. "Infections keep spreading as variants replace the original strain."

As of May 27, 88 percent of hospital beds designated for coronavirus patients in the prefecture were occupied. Those for severe cases were completely full. The head of the Okinawa Medical Association, Asato Tetsuyoshi, says the situation has put many people at risk of dying at home or in nursing facilities while waiting to be admitted to hospital.

The association also reports that the demographic of the outbreak is shifting, with people in their 40s or younger making up 70 percent of recent cases. It is calling on residents, particularly young people, to fully cooperate with anti-infection measures and stay home after 8 p.m.

Graph: Daily COVID-19 cases in Okinawa

Meanwhile, the national government is making efforts to speed up its vaccination program. On Monday, the health ministry approved the Pfizer vaccine for people as young as 12 after reviewing data from clinical trials in the United States. It added that parental consent will be required for children under 16.

More elderly people became eligible this week for vaccinations at large state-run venues in Tokyo and Osaka. The sites can handle a combined 15,000 people a day.

The government is also considering a plan to vaccinate younger people at workplaces and university campuses. This could start in mid-June.