(Bloomberg) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will expand a state of emergency to eight more areas and cover about 70% of the population as a delta-variant fueled surge sends cases to records and puts strains on the medical system.
Suga said Wednesday the eight areas that include the northern island of Hokkaido and the central industrial prefecture of Aichi would be placed under a state of emergency from Friday that runs until Sept. 12. When the expansion takes effect, 21 areas that make up 79% of Japan’s economy will be under a state of emergency, including the Tokyo and Osaka metro regions.
“The delta variant is extremely infectious, and to get through this time, we will need further cooperation from the people,” Suga told a virus task force panel.
The move comes as Japan hosts the Paralympics and before Suga faces a leadership vote in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party expected for next month. Public support for Suga has fallen to record lows and any major stumbles in virus management that erode support in the LDP and further sour public sentiment could have him join a long line of short-serving premiers — ahead of a general election that must be held by November.
The states of emergency, which have few legal teeth, have become less effective in changing people’s behavior over time. Many bars and restaurants are ignoring instructions to close early and stop serving alcohol, despite the threat of fines.
There are no penalties for individuals who disobey instructions to stay at home, so many have continued their normal routines — something that has mitigated the damage to the economy.
Japan managed to avoid a recession last quarter largely because shoppers shrugged off government warnings on the virus, but activity levels in Tokyo are still far lower than in New York and London, according to Apple Mobility Trends data.
A decision Tuesday to widen the latest state of emergency to more prefectures and keep it in place longer could cause consumers to retrench. Japan found about 21,500 new virus cases Tuesday.
While Japan has been closing the gap among other Group of Seven nations for vaccinations, its rate for fully inoculated is last at about 43% of the population. Canada is at 66% and the US is at 52%.
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