TOKYO (Reuters) - The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency to combat COVID-19 for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures until March 21, two weeks longer than originally scheduled, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday.
Under the state of emergency, the government has requested restaurants and bars close by 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol an hour earlier. People are also asked to stay home after 8 p.m. unless they have essential reasons to go out.
Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, which make up 30% of the country's population, sought the extension past the originally scheduled end date of March 7 as new coronavirus cases had not fallen enough to meet targets.
The government had an early-morning meeting with advisers and they approved the extension, Nishimura, who is in charge of the government's coronavirus response, told reporters.
But the measure will put more burden on restaurants.
"As long as the government asks us to endure for another two weeks, we will follow its instructions. But that would be a matter of life or death for us," said Akira Koganezawa, vice president of the association for 55 restaurants that serve monjayaki - a pan-fried batter dish popular in Tokyo area.
"Without enough subsidies, some restaurants would go out of business," he said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is scheduled to hold a news conference at 9:00 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) after the government officially decides the extension, according to his office.
Fuji TV, citing an unnamed government official, reported on Friday that another extension until the end of March could not be ruled out.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is considering setting a criteria that new daily infections stay below 140 on a weekly average basis, to lift the state of emergency, the Nikkei reported.
Tokyo's daily new infection came in at 269 on average for the past week through March 4, according to Reuters calculations.
The government is keen to tame the spread of the virus as preparations ramp up for the Tokyo Olympics with just 4-1/2 months until they kick off.
Foreign athletes have been barred from entering Japan to train ahead of the Games during the state of emergency. It was not immediately clear if the ban would remain in place during the extension for the Tokyo region while the order has already been lifted for the rest of the country.
The current curbs are narrower in scope than those imposed under an emergency in spring of last year when schools and non-essential businesses were mostly shuttered.
Still, new case numbers are at a fraction of their peak in early January, when the state of emergency took effect. Tokyo reported 279 cases on Thursday, compared with a record high 2,520 on Jan. 7
Nationwide, Japan has recorded some 433,000 cases and 8,050 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Chris Gallagher and Takashi Umekawa; Editing by Richard Pullin, Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)