The extension is the second since the emergency was declared in early January, with the prime minister saying the measure is "necessary to protect lives and livelihoods."
TOKYO, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday extended the state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic covering the Tokyo metropolitan area by two weeks to March 21, as infection numbers have not fallen enough for the emergency period to be lifted as scheduled on Sunday.
Suga made the decision to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama at a meeting of the government's COVID-19 task force.
The extension is the second since Suga declared the emergency in early January, with the prime minister saying the measure is "necessary to protect lives and livelihoods."
Health experts and local officials have voiced concerns that lifting the state of emergency for the region too early could lead to a resurgence in infections and the medical care system once again becoming overly strained.
They have said that warmer temperatures mean that cherry blossom-viewing parties, a seasonal highlight in Japan heralding the beginning of spring, could become super-spreader events in the region.
They added that such parties could trigger the virus' resurgence unless protocols are put in place to dissuade people from gathering in groups in parks and along popular riverbanks known for their blossoms.
The Japanese government is scrambling to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, set to kick off in less than five months.
Since the state of emergency was declared, people have been more ardently requested to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors and to work from home.
Bars and restaurants in particular have also been asked to shorten their operating hours and close their doors by 8:00 p.m.
Meanwhile, companies are encouraged to adopt remote working and attendance at large events such as concerts and sports games is capped at 5,000.
Earlier in the day, a panel of experts in infectious diseases and other fields held a meeting to approve the move.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the country's coronavirus response, said at the meeting that he plans to expand coronavirus testing and contact tracing in an effort to contain the outbreak.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, for her part, has been cautious toward lifting the emergency on Sunday as scheduled, calling the two-week extension a "crucial period" to prevent a resurgence in coronavirus infections.
Tokyo on Friday reported 301 new daily COVID-19 cases, bringing the capital's cumulative total of infections to 112,925. The average number of new infections in the capital in the week through Friday surpassed that of the preceding seven days for the first time since Jan. 15.
Nationwide, the confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by 1,148 to reach 437,861 as of Friday evening, according to the latest figures from the health ministry and local authorities.
The death toll in Japan from the pneumonia-causing virus stands at 8,211, with 55 new fatalities announced Friday.
A one-month state of emergency was initially declared for the greater Tokyo area on Jan. 7 before being expanded to cover 11 prefectures in Japan.
It was later extended by an additional month but cut short for all prefectures except the Tokyo area as improvements were seen in infection rates and the strain on the health care system.