Osaka Prefecture on Wednesday decided to declare a medical state of emergency due to the increased strain on its health care system, after a record 878 additional coronavirus cases were reported, officials said.
The prefecture's second such declaration, following one issued in December, will come as Osaka's hospital bed occupancy rate for those in serious condition nears 70 percent, with an increase in patients with severe symptoms expected to continue.
"To reduce the number of virus patients by even one person will lessen the strain on the medical system. We ask each resident to follow anti-virus measures and refrain from nonessential outings," Osaka Gov Hirofumi Yoshimura said at a press conference Wednesday.
The request to the public to refrain from such outings has now expanded from Osaka city to the entire prefecture, effective Thursday.
In line with the request, Yoshimura said he will not allow torchbearers of the Tokyo Olympic relay to run on public roads in the prefecture, when its legs are slated on April 13 and 14.
Yoshimura also highlighted the need to act against more contagious variants, which make up around half of the prefecture's infections.
The number of infections has been rapidly increasing across the country, with Tokyo confirming 555 new cases the same day, the highest since Feb 6 when it reported 639 new cases.
The tally announced Wednesday in the Japanese capital is also the largest since the state of emergency was lifted last month. As of Wednesday, the capital's cumulative total stands at 123,905.
Hyogo Prefecture also logged a record 328 virus infections, after it was subject to quasi-emergency measures, along with Osaka and Miyagi prefectures, from Monday. The three prefectures became the first in Japan to be recently designated as being on the brink of a state of emergency under a revised law that took effect in February, which includes fines for restaurants and bars that ignore orders to shorten operating hours.
On Tuesday, Osaka's tally for the preceding seven-day period surpassed 4,000 cases, over a four-fold increase compared with the rolling weekly total two weeks earlier.
At its COVID-19 task force meeting Wednesday, the prefectural government additionally made the decision to raise its virus alert on its own warning system to the highest "red" level in expectation that the hospital occupancy rate for serious COVID-19 cases will imminently surpass 70 percent. The figure stood at 66.5 percent on Tuesday.
Both the medical emergency declaration and the red alert level are largely symbolic moves aimed at raising vigilance among residents.
The prefecture's first medical emergency due to the pandemic was declared on Dec. 3 and lasted until the end of February, when the central government's state of emergency covering the region was lifted.
In Osaka city, eateries are currently asked to close at 8 p.m., while establishments outside the city are requested to shut down at 9 p.m.© KYODO