Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has extended the country’s state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic until the end of May.
Prime Minister Abe made the announcement on Monday after meeting with the government’s coronavirus task force. The original 30-day decree imposed by Abe on April 7, which is set to expire on Wednesday, covered Tokyo and six other prefectures, but was later extended nationwide as the number of infections continued to rise.
The prime minister said the number of new infections have slowed in recent days, but not enough to lift the state of emergency.
Japan has now reported 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections with 510 deaths, a situation that has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, hobbled its economy and forced it to postpone the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games for a year.
The emergency declaration gives local authorities the legal power to call on its citizens to stay at home and to ask schools and businesses to close, but stops short of imposing a legally binding nationwide lockdown. Japan’s post-World War II constitution, which weighs heavily in favor of civil liberties, does not empower the government to impose a mandatory quarantine.
The extension will keep the original restrictions in place for Tokyo and the other six prefectures named in the original decree, while the others will be allowed to ease restrictions provided they have low rates of infection.
Abe’s government has been criticized for its slow response to the outbreak and its failure to set up an aggressive testing program.