THE Japanese government plans to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures until March 21, two weeks later than originally scheduled, in an effort to fight COVID-19.

According to Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said in a state of emergency, the government had asked restaurants and bars to close at 8 pm and stop serving alcohol one hour earlier. People are also asked to stay at home after 8 pm, unless they have an important reason to go out.

The prefectures of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, which make up 30% of the country’s population, are calling for an extension of the time originally scheduled for the state of emergency to end on March 7. This was done because the number of COVID-19 cases that had fallen had not met the target.

The government held a meeting with advisers and they agreed to an extension of time, Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s response to the coronavirus, told reporters.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is scheduled to hold a press conference at 9:00 p.m. local time after the government officially decides on an extension, according to the prime minister’s office.

Fuji TV, citing an unnamed government official, reported on Friday that another extension to the end of March cannot be ruled out.

The government wants to tame the spread of the virus in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics which are scheduled to start in the next two months. Foreign athletes are prohibited from entering Japan to train ahead of the Olympics during an emergency.

It is unclear whether the ban will remain in effect during the extension to the Tokyo area while the order has been lifted nationwide. The current restrictions have narrower scope than those imposed in the state of emergency in the spring of last year when nonessential schools and businesses were largely closed.

However, the number of new cases is at a fraction of its peak in early January, when the state of emergency was declared. Tokyo recorded 279 cases on Thursday, compared with a record high of 2,520 on January 7.

Nationally, Japan has recorded around 433,000 cases and 8,050 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday. As of Friday (18/2), Japanese health authorities have found more than 90 cases of the new variant of COVID-19, said a government spokesman.

The mutant variant, known as E484K, has been found in 91 cases in the Kanto region in eastern Japan and in 2 cases at the airport, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobo Kato told reporters.

The variant is believed to have originated abroad but differs from those from Britain and South Africa, according to an earlier report by the Mainichi newspaper citing Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases. [antaranews/photo]