Japan expands, extends state of emergency

NHK -- May 12
Japan is stepping up efforts to contain a rise in coronavirus infections by expanding and extending its third state of emergency of the pandemic.

Stricter virus measures have been in place for Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures since late April. As of Wednesday, the emergency declaration also covers Aichi and Fukuoka. It will remain in effect until the end of this month.

Officials in the capital are reporting 969 new infections. That's the highest tally for a Wednesday since late January.

Officials in Osaka confirmed 851 new cases, and said 50 people lost their lives. That's its second highest death toll for a single day.

Still, health minister Tamura Norihisa says the prefecture may have turned a corner. Tamura said, "We are hoping that the number of new infections in Osaka has peaked, and is now falling due to the state of emergency and other measures."

However in Tokyo, Tamura says the emergency measures haven't had a noticeable impact so far.

The spreading infections continue to put the country's medical system under strain. There are now almost 1,200 COVID-19 patients in serious condition.

Experts say variants are partly to blame for the surge. But a group of scientists in Japan say their research suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be effective against these new strains.

They found that about 90 percent of recipients had enough antibodies to be considered effective against seven variants, including those first detected in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India.

The research group at Yokohama City University examined blood samples from 105 healthcare workers who had received both jabs.

Yokohama City University Professor Yamanaka Takeharu said, "More than 90 percent had neutralizing antibodies. That's a promising result in terms of herd immunity."

Health authorities confirmed about 7,000 new infections across the country on Wednesday.

The government has been stepping up border controls as a counter-measure. Officials are planning to expand the current entry ban to include foreigners with resident status in Japan who have stayed in India, Pakistan or Nepal within 14 days of their arrival. The measure could start on Friday.