Japan issues 3rd virus emergency in Tokyo, Osaka area

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares a state of emergency for Tokyo and three other prefectures during the government task force meeting for the COVID-19 measures at the prime minister's office Friday, April 23, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

TOKYO – Japan declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures on Friday amid skepticism it will be enough to curb a rapid coronavirus resurgence just three months ahead of the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 through May 11.

The step is largely intended to be “short and intensive” to stop people from traveling and spreading the virus during Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays from late April through the first week of May, Suga said.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble for many people again,” said Suga, who earlier had pledged to do his utmost to prevent a third emergency. But he said he is alarmed by the fast=spreading new variant of the virus in the four prefectures and tougher steps are needed.

Suga said he will ensure enough vaccines are delivered to local municipalities so all of the country's 36 million senior citizens can receive their second shots by the end of July — a month behind an earlier schedule.

Japan’s third state of emergency since the pandemic began comes only a month after an earlier emergency ended in the Tokyo area. For days, experts and local leaders said ongoing semi-emergency measures have failed and tougher steps are urgently needed.

Past emergency measures, issued a year ago and then in January, were toothless and authorized only non-mandatory requests. The government in February toughened a law on anti-virus measures to allow authorities to issue binding orders for nonessential businesses to shorten their hours or close, in exchange for compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.

The measures this time are to include shutdown requirements for bars, department stores, malls, theme parks, theaters and museums. Restaurants that do not serve alcohol and public transportation services are asked to close early. Schools will stay open, but universities are asked to return to online classes.