Japan's government is set to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas by about three weeks until the end of May to curb a surge in novel coronavirus cases just months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The government had hoped a "short and powerful" state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infection, but new cases in the capital Tokyo and second-city Osaka are still at high levels, says Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of pandemic measures.
Extending the state of emergency to May 31 from May 11 will leave a margin of less than two months before the July 23 start of the Games, which were postponed a year due to the pandemic.
"Osaka particularly is in quite a dangerous situation with its medical system," Nishimura said on Friday at the start of a meeting with a panel of medical and economic experts, noting that variant strains were spreading rapidly.
"We have a strong sense of danger that Tokyo could soon be turning into the same situation as Osaka."
The experts later approved the extension plan. Formal government approval is set for later in the day, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga giving a news conference at 7pm (2000 AEST).
Japan has recorded nearly 622,000 coronavirus cases and about 10,600 deaths.
Nishimura said the government aimed to place Aichi prefecture to the west of Tokyo and Fukuoka prefecture in the southwest under a state of emergency - joining Tokyo and Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, home to nearly a quarter of the population.
The northern island of Hokkaido and two other areas would be added to regions under a "quasi state of emergency", he said.
Under the extended state of emergency, bars, restaurants, karaoke parlours and other places serving alcohol will continue to be asked to stop serving alcohol, while people will continue to be asked to avoid taking unnecessary trips.
But other requests will be loosened. Commercial facilities such as shopping malls, for instance, will be asked to shorten opening hours rather than close completely.
Japan and the International Olympic Committee insist the Games will take place, though foreign spectators have been banned. A decision on domestic spectators has yet to be reached.
Test events for the Olympics, including an athletics event at the weekend, will not be affected by the extension.
Australian Associated Press