Japan is set to expand quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions on Friday as a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases spreads, casting doubt on whether the Summer Olympics can be held in Tokyo.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that the government was considering adding Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba to six other prefectures already under the orders, including the metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka. A final decision is expected on Friday afternoon.
Japan's top health experts have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.
Daily cases in Osaka reached a record 1,208 on Thursday, driven by a virulent British strain of the virus. New infections rose to 729 in Tokyo, the most since early February when most of the nation was under a state of emergency, Reuters reported.
A senior ruling party official said on Thursday that cancelling this year's Olympics remains an option if the coronavirus situation becomes too dire.
A scaled-back torch relay is already underway. Overseas fans have been barred from the Games and officials say that domestic fans may be kept out too.
The quasi-state of emergency allows local governments to order bars and restaurants to shorten their hours and impose fines on those that don't comply. A full state of emergency has been declared twice in Japan over the course of the pandemic.
Kyodo News reported that in addition to Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, the central prefecture of Aichi, which includes the major city of Nagoya, will be placed under a quasi-state of emergency, starting from Tuesday, the officials said.
The government will formally approve the plan to expand the list from Tokyo and five prefectures, including Osaka and Hyogo, on Friday, a day after the number of new daily confirmed coronavirus cases topped 4,000 for the second straight day.
It plans to authorize the four prefectures -- Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Aichi -- to toughen anti-virus measures through May 11, they said.
With the quasi-emergency status, prefectural governors can ask restaurants and bars in targeted cities to shorten operating hours and impose a fine of up to 200,000 yen ($1,800) for noncompliance.
On Thursday, Japan's reported nationwide tally of new cases totaled 4,576, amid growing concern about what medical experts call a fourth wave of infections driven by the spread of more contagious variants.
Osaka Prefecture reported a daily record of 1,208 cases, topping 1,000 for the third straight day, following 1,130 reported on Wednesday and 1,099 on Tuesday.
Tokyo confirmed another 729, the highest number since it logged 734 on Feb. 4, when the capital was under a state of emergency.
Kanagawa saw 242 additional cases, Aichi 218, while Saitama reported 188 and Chiba 144.
"The number of new coronavirus cases is rising at high rates and variants are also increasing," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters before leaving for Washington to hold talks with US President Joe Biden.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato will serve as acting head of Friday's government meeting to endorse adding the four prefectures to the list.
The other prefectures designated by the government earlier this month as requiring the quasi-emergency measures are Miyagi, Hyogo, Kyoto and Okinawa.