The change in status announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will allow the governor of Tokyo to impose a reduction in the opening hours of bars and restaurants, as well as sanctions for those who violate the rules and compensation for those who abide by them. The measures will take effect on Monday and will last until May 11.
Many of the cases reported in Tokyo were linked to nightlife and restaurants, although recently they have spread through offices, senior centers and schools, according to experts.
Suga also raised the alert level for Kyoto, in western Japan, and for Okinawa prefecture, a southern island where cases have erupted in recent weeks. The new status there will remain until May 5, when the national holiday of “Golden Week” ends, to discourage the population from traveling.
On Monday, the alert status was raised for three other areas: Osaka, neighboring Hyogo and Miyagi in the north. There were strong increases in the daily count of positives to the virus since the beginning of March, shortly after the country began to ease the partial and non-binding state of emergency decreed in January.
These initiatives are taken less than three weeks after the end of those measures in Tokyo, and highlight the difficulty in finding a balance between the restrictions to contain the virus and the economy. The Suga government has been criticized for being too slow to enact containment measures for fear of causing further damage to an economy already hit by the pandemic.
Osaka declared a medical emergency after its hospitals were overwhelmed by the rebound and moved the Olympic torch relay that was supposed to tour them next week off its streets.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who on Thursday asked the central executive to increase the alert level in the capital, said she was alarmed by the recent spike in cases and the possible impact of the new variants. The president asked residents to avoid unnecessary trips and to respect social distance. Koike is expected to issue a decree to force bars and restaurants to close at 8:00 p.m.
Just over a million people, the equivalent of less than 1% of its population, received the first of two doses of the vaccine, and the increase in cases could cause the cancellation of more events related to the Olympic event, which it was delayed a year by the pandemic.
The inoculation campaign started in February with medical workers. Older people are scheduled to receive their dose between next week and the end of June. The rest of the population may have to wait until July, making it almost impossible for the nation to achieve so-called herd immunity before the opening of the Games on July 23.