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Japan to extend state of emergency over virus: reports

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Tokyo (AFP)

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to extend a nationwide state of emergency imposed over the coronavirus, possibly by another month, local media reported on Thursday.

The measure was initially declared on April 7 across seven regions experiencing a spike in infections, but was later expanded to cover the entire country.

With the initial month-long period coming to an end next week after the country's annual Golden Week holidays, local media reported that Abe was now expected to extend the measure, either until the end of May or for another full month until June 6.

In parliament on Thursday, Abe said the country's healthcare system continues to face an "extremely tough situation."

He told lawmakers on Wednesday that "even now, we are seeing new infections," adding: "Can we say on May 6 the state of emergency is over? I think severe situations are continuing."

Local media including the Nikkei newspaper reported the government would convene a panel of experts on Friday to discuss the virus and the state of emergency, adding that the experts had already informally backed a move to extend the measures.

It was not yet clear when any extension would be announced, but Abe has said he will not wait until the last minute, to allow business and institutions including schools time to prepare accordingly.

The declaration has limited effect compared to measures seen in some parts of Europe and elsewhere. It allows governors to call on people to stay home and urge businesses to close, but there are no punishments for those who fail to comply.

Regional governors have already voiced support for the extension of the state of emergency, with many of them also suggesting that the school year start now be moved from its usual April to September, as schools in most of the country have been closed since March.

Japan has so far seen a relatively limited outbreak compared to parts of Europe and the United States, with around 14,000 infections recorded so far and 415 deaths.

But it has faced criticism for carrying out comparatively few tests, which some critics argue leaves the actual rate of infection in the country unclear.

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