Japan’s government said Tuesday it will expand a coronavirus state of emergency to seven new regions as it battles a record wave of infections a week before the Paralympic Games.
Virus emergency measures that ban restaurants and bars from selling alcohol and require them to close by 8pm are already in place in Tokyo and five other regions, and had been due to end by Aug 31.
But the government will now expand the measure to additional areas, with the restrictions in all parts of the country running until Sept 12.
“(Infection) is spreading across Japan on a scale we have never experienced before,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the coronavirus response minister.
“The number of patients in serious condition is rising each day,” he said at an expert meeting.
In addition to the measures affecting bars and restaurants, the government will ask large shopping malls and department stores to limit the number of customers inside at one time.
Japan has seen a smaller outbreak than many other countries, with around 15,400 deaths despite avoiding lockdowns.
But its inoculation programme began later and more slowly than in many other developed countries, and only around 37% of the population is currently fully vaccinated.
In recent days, Japan has reported more than 20,000 daily cases nationwide, a record for the country.
The surge began before the Olympics opened last month and continued throughout the Games, which were held with spectators banned from most events.
On Monday night, organisers said a spectator ban would also be applied to the Paralympics, with limited exceptions for a programme bringing schoolchildren to watch the Games.
Paralympic participants face virus restrictions including regular testing and limits on their movement.
The government says there is no evidence that holding the Games contributed to the rise in cases and recent polls have found most Japanese believe holding the Olympics was a good idea, though many also think it fuelled the infection surge.
Some experts argue that the massive international event undermined the government’s virus restrictions, encouraging people to go out and businesses to remain open.
Local media reports have estimated up to 40% of bars and restaurants in some parts of Tokyo are flouting the virus rules.