TOKYO - Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency Friday in Tokyo and the western Japan prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus cases during the upcoming Golden Week holidays.
Tougher restrictions, such as banning restaurants and bars from serving alcohol, asking department stores and movie theaters to close temporarily, and barring fans at sports games, will be in place from Sunday through May 11.
While the state of emergency does not entail a hard lockdown like some other countries have imposed and largely relies on the cooperation of people and businesses, the measures have more teeth than the previous declaration in January.
Spectators will be effectively banned from large events such as sports games and concerts. Train and bus operators will be asked to end operations earlier on weeknights, with reduced services on weekends and holidays.
Eating establishments will be required to close by 8 p.m., while those serving alcohol or offering karaoke services will be made to close entirely, with a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,800) for offenders.
Commercial facilities with a floor area of more than 1,000 square meters, including department stores, shopping malls, movie theaters and amusement parks, will also be asked to shut, with the exception of sections selling daily necessities. Schools will remain open, though universities are encouraged to conduct classes online.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said she will also ask smaller businesses such as gyms, video game arcades and pachinko parlors to close and will request neon signs and other lights to be turned off after 8 p.m. to discourage people from going out at night, saying at a press conference the situation is "critical and severe."
The growing strain on hospitals is also a concern. Osaka no longer had any hospital beds for severely ill COVID-19 patients as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, Japan has lagged behind other countries in its vaccine rollout, with only around 1 percent of its population having received at least one dose of Pfizer Inc.'s two shots. The government hopes to finish inoculating all of Japan's elderly by the end of July, Suga said.
Suga said the country's third emergency declaration will not affect the staging of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, reiterating the government will continue efforts to ensure they are "safe and secure."