Pandemic-related measures to be extended through March 21 in 18 prefectures

The government decided Friday an extension to quasi-emergency priority measures through March 21 in 18 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka.

The measures are scheduled to end Sunday in the remaining 13 of the 31 prefectures where pandemic-related restrictions are currently in place.

“Although the infection situation nationwide has been steadily improving, the number of severely ill patients in some regions has increased, keeping the occupancy rate of hospital beds high,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday.

The measures will end as scheduled Sunday in Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Mie, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kochi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures.

The measures will be extended in Hokkaido, Aomori, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Ishikawa, Gifu, Shizuoka, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Kagawa and Kumamoto prefectures.

Although the number of new coronavirus cases is decreasing in most of these areas, the pace of decline is slow, and hospital occupancy rates are high, especially in metropolitan areas.

As of Wednesday, the occupancy of COVID-19 beds was 52% in Tokyo, 63% in Aichi and 72% in Osaka prefectures.

The high rates have been attributed to an increase in the number of elderly patients, which has resulted in prolonged hospital stays.

About 75% of hospitalized patients in Osaka Prefecture are aged 70 or older, according to the prefectural government. As of Feb. 24, 14.7% of patients with mild or moderate symptoms have occupied hospital beds for 15 days or more in the prefecture, a 13-fold increase from a month earlier.

Under the previous administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, a state of emergency issued in April last year for Tokyo and other areas was extended twice before the restrictions were downgraded to quasi-emergency measures.

Another state of emergency was issued following a resurgence of infections, which was extended three times and lifted at the end of September.

In a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted last year, the approval rating of the Suga Cabinet fell to a record low of 35% in August from 47% in April.

Although Kishida has regarded the Suga Cabinet as an example of how not to do things, his administration has ended up approving an extension that will mean quasi-emergency measures will have been in place for two months in Tokyo and eight other prefectures by March 21.

“Repeated extensions will sap strength from the administration, as was the case with the Suga Cabinet,” a source close to Kishida said.

On Friday, the government also revealed a revised draft of the government’s basic coronavirus policy, which included efforts to make it easier for vaccinations to be arranged for children ages 5 to 11. The draft also included the results of research indicating the fatality rate of the omicron variant is higher than that of seasonal flu.