Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked the central government Thursday to be permitted to impose stronger measures to combat COVID-19 under a quasi-state of emergency as worries increase over a resurgence in infections.
Tokyo reported 555 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the most in two months, and with less than four months before the Tokyo Olympics.
"Reducing the flow of people is key in preventing infections," she said. The measures could include bringing forward closing times for restaurants and bars to 8 p.m. from 9 p.m. in densely populated areas, sources said.
Meanwhile, in Osaka a fresh wave of cases has pushed medical systems "to the verge of collapse," Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura says. More than 70% of hospital beds are occupied by virus patients.
Osaka reported nearly 900 new cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the region to roughly 56,000, according to John Hopkins University - the second largest coronavirus hot spot in Japan after Tokyo.
"A new wave of infections has begun," director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases Ryuji Wakita said. "There's no doubt about it."
To limit the spread of the virus, Yoshimura canceled the Olympic torch relay which was to take place in mid-April around Osaka. Instead, a short commemorative ceremony will be held later this month at the 1970 Osaka Expo park.
Earlier, Yoshimura issued special virus control measures for Osaka city alone following Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's decision to place the prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi under a semi-emergency.
Infections are rising in neighboring Hyogo prefecture, too, with the four largest cities under temporary lockdown measures starting Monday.
The recent increase in cases has cast a pall on Olympic events and more legs of the torch relay are expected to be delayed or canceled in Japan's southwest.
Meanwhile, South Korea reported 700 new cases Wednesday, the highest number of daily infections since the start of the year.
The country has seen a total recovery rate of 91.4% and despite recording one of the highest daily infection increases to date Wednesday, 432 people were discharged that same day.
More than 8 million South Koreans have been tested so far with just over a million vaccine doses administered.