Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said vaccine approval was being speeded up and border controls tightened to curb the spread of the coronavirus as he promised on Monday to consider declaring a state of emergency.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa had asked the national government on Saturday to declare the emergency after the capital recorded a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve.
Worries have been growing about holding the Olympics in July, which will mean the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media.
Mr Suga stressed his determination to hold the Olympics, which he said will serve as “proof that people have overcome the coronaivus”, giving “hope and courage”. Preparations were moving ahead, he said.
Japan issued an official emergency warning in April last year through late May, urging restaurants to close early and people to work from home.
Japan has never had a lockdown, attempting to juggle the need to keep the economy going with health risks.
The declaration carries no legal penalties but works as a strong warning for people to work from home, reduce non-essential outings and social distance, as well as having businesses close early, in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Suga told reporters the ruling party would push for a legal change when parliament reconvenes later this month, to allow penalties for violations.
“The situation remains extremely serious,” Mr Suga said at his New Year’s news conference at the prime minister’s residence.
Mr Suga also stressed that vaccine approval was being expedited by a month so that vaccinations can start next month.
Cases have been growing in Japan in recent weeks, with more than 3,400 deaths so far related to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, India has approved two Covid-19 vaccines, paving the way for a massive inoculation program.
The vaccines are from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and local firm Bharat Biotech.
Elsewhere in Asia, Thailand has registered 745 new coronavirus cases, with a new death reported in Bangkok, where a semi-lockdown went into effect.
Officials said the new infections bring the total number since last January to 8,439, while the death toll stands at 65 since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The government ordered all schools to be closed from Monday and had taken earlier steps to try to restrict the spread of the virus, including closing bars and banning all public gatherings.
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