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State of emergency expanded
On August 20, the Japanese government expanded its fourth coronavirus state of emergency to include a total of 13 prefectures. It also widened its list of prefectures covered by intensive anti-virus measures to 16. Both measures will run through September 12.
The move comes as the highly contagious Delta variant drives a surge in cases across the country. The nationwide tally for August 20 was 25,876 new cases, the highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. On the same day, the Tokyo metropolitan government confirmed 5,405 new cases. The total in Tokyo has now exceeded 5,000 for three straight days for the first time.
The number of seriously ill patients is also rising. Many people in areas around Tokyo cannot even be hospitalized as the medical system is stretched to breaking point. Some patients are dying at home.
Recently, a newborn baby in Chiba Prefecture died after no hospital would admit its coronavirus-infected mother. The woman, who was eight months pregnant, called for an ambulance after experiencing bleeding. But the emergency team was unable to find her a medical facility and she was forced to give birth at home. Her prematurely born baby was rushed to a hospital, but it was too late to administer emergency care.
The seven prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka have been added to the state of emergency. The declaration already covered Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Osaka and Okinawa prefectures. It will now last until September 12.
The government has also expanded its intensive anti-virus measures to cover Miyagi, Yamanashi, Toyama, Gifu, Mie, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kagoshima prefectures. The measures already included Hokkaido, Fukushima, Ishikawa, Aichi, Shiga and Kumamoto prefectures. They will also last until September 12.
The state of emergency and intensive measures covered the Tokyo Olympics and the mid-August Obon holiday. They will now also include the Paralympics, which start on August 24 and end on September 5.
The health ministry's expert panel held a meeting on August 18. They said people should understand that the current situation in the country is at the "disaster level" and the death toll could continue to climb. They called on people to refrain from going outside and to limit travel as much as possible to protect themselves and their families.
The government says controlling the movement of people is crucial to containing the virus. It will introduce a range of measures to achieve this, including: asking department stores and shopping centers to set entry restrictions; asking people to refrain from going outside; and asking businesses to reduce commuting by 70% by encouraging employees to work from home or take time off.
*Updated on August 20, 2021.
The key measures in place in Tokyo are listed below. For details and information on other prefectures, please visit the individual prefectural government websites.
- Requests remain in place for residents to avoid nonessential excursions, and refrain from travel between prefectures.
- Companies are urged to implement remote working policies, with the goal of reducing the number of commuters by 70 percent. In-office employees should finish their work by 8 p.m. and go home directly.
Bars and restaurants
- Bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are asked to close. Those that don't provide alcohol are allowed to operate until 8 p.m. Takeout and delivery services can continue as normal.
- People are asked to refrain from drinking in groups on the street or in parks.
Large commercial facilities
- Large-scale commercial facilities, including department stores, are asked to close by 8 p.m. Areas within these sites that offer everyday products can remain open as normal.
- Theaters, exhibition halls, and movie theaters are asked to close by 9 p.m.
- Event organizers are asked to limit venue capacity to half or 5,000 people, whichever is smaller. Events must end by 9 p.m. They are asked to urge attendees to not stop anywhere on the way to or from venues.
Differences between intensive measures and state of emergency
Intensive anti-virus measures are part of the revised coronavirus special law enacted in February. They allow the governors of targeted prefectures to take special steps without declaring a state of emergency. The prime minister decides which prefectures are covered and for how long.
While a state of emergency covers an entire prefecture, intensive measures allow governors to focus on specific municipalities.
A state of emergency can be declared when the infection situation reaches the highest level on the government's four-tier alert system. The intensive measures correspond with Stage Three, but can also be applied at Stage Two if infections are spreading rapidly.
Requests and orders
Under intensive measures and state of emergency declarations, governors can ask businesses to shorten operating hours. If a business ignores the request, governors can issue an order – and publish the name of the business. On-site inspections from local officials are also permitted.
A request for business closure can only be made under a state of emergency.
A prefectural government can impose fines on businesses that don't cut operating hours, or refuse on-site inspections. Intensive measures allow fines of about 200,000 yen. This rises to 300,000 yen under a state of emergency.
This information was updated on August 20, 2021.