New wave of pandemic hits more of Japan's prefectures

Tokyo, May 14, (dpa/GNA) - Japan is set to expand the current state of emergency to three more prefectures, the government said on Friday, as coronavirus infections continued to hit wider regions of the country ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The prefectures of Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima are likely to be under the measure from Sunday to the end of May, Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters.

A panel of experts endorsed the proposal, said Nishimura, who is in charge of the government's coronavirus response.

The northern island of Hokkaido reported a record 712 new infections on Thursday, while the western prefecture of Hiroshima also saw a record 219 new cases on Wednesday.

Surging infections prompted Hiroshima and Okayama to cancel next week’s torch relay on their public roads.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was scheduled to participate in a torch relay event in Hiroshima on May 17.

However, Bach’s travel to Japan ahead of the Games has been postponed, local organizers said on Monday, as the government extended the state of emergency in Tokyo and three other prefectures until the end of May and added two more regions - Aichi, Fukuoka - to the measure.

The government declared the state of emergency in the four prefectures in late April, requesting bars and restaurants refrain from serving alcohol and offering a karaoke service.

Experts warned of the rapid spread of more contagious variants especially as the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines has been extremely slow in Japan since its launch in mid-February.

Only 1 percent of Japan’s 125 million population has been fully vaccinated.