- PM Suga: to decide on emergency declarations for major prefectures this week
- New infections surge stoked by more infectious virus strains
- Amid slow vaccine roll-out, concern rising with Olympics in view
- Nikkei slips 2% as worries about handling of virus spread to investors
- New state of emergency could cover close to quarter of Japan population
TOKYO, April 21 (Reuters) - Japan's government is considering a state of emergency for Tokyo and Osaka as new COVID-19 case numbers surge, broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday, a move that would enable prefectural authorities to impose curbs to try to stop infections spreading.
With thousands of new cases resulting from highly infectious strains of the virus, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the government wanted to decide this week whether to declare the state of emergency for major parts of the country.
Suga said the capital Tokyo was mulling a request to the central government to issue the state of emergency, as Osaka and Hyogo prefectures already have done.
Japan has so far avoided an explosive spread of the pandemic that has plagued many Western countries, with total cases so far at about 540,000 and a death toll of 9,707. But the latest rise in infections has stoked alarm, coming just three months before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics and amid a sluggish vaccination roll-out.
On Wednesday Tokyo reported 843 new infections, the most since Jan. 29 when its previous state of emergency was in place. Case numbers in Osaka have exceeded those in Tokyo in recent days, reaching a record 1,351 on April 13.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is preparing to request an emergency period be declared from April 29 to May 9, encompassing Japan's annual 'Golden Week' holiday period, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
Osaka, the epicentre of a fourth wave of the pandemic, requested a renewed state of emergency on Tuesday, looking to cancel or postpone all major events to restrict the movement of people.
Hyogo prefecture, home to the city of Kobe, reported a record 563 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and made its own state of emergency request official. Quasi-emergency measures were already imposed in 10 of Japan's 47 prefectures, including the Tokyo and Osaka areas. read more
Kyoto prefecture is also preparing to request an emergency declaration, Japan's top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said.
If adopted in all four regions from Tokyo to Kyoto, the emergency measures would cover close to a quarter of Japan's population of 126 million.
New declarations would mark the third full state of emergency in Japan since the epidemic began. The total economic loss from a renewed emergency in the three regions would be 1.156 trillion yen ($10.71 billion), the Nomura Research Institute said in a report.
Concerns about expanded lockdown measures - and the slow pace of vaccinations - spread to investors, with Japanese shares trading sharply lower and the benchmark Nikkei index losing 2%.
Earlier on Tuesday, Suga said any emergency declaration would have no impact on the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to begin in July.
Kato, the top government spokesman, also said Wednesday the government would continue to work for a "safe and secure" Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) will sign a contract this month to supply an additional 50 million doses of vaccine to Japan by September, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Suga, during a visit to the United States last week, was in talks with Pfizer's CEO last Saturday to secure more vaccine doses. read more
Along with existing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna Inc (MRNA.O), whose COVID-19 vaccine is being reviewed by domestic regulators, that would be enough for all of Japan's adult population.
Government spokesman Kato declined to comment on the amount of additional Pfizer doses. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
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