Tokyo: Japan's government will extend a state of emergency in the Tokyo region for another two weeks because its medical systems are still strained by COVID-19 patients, the minister in charge of virus response said Friday.

"For two more weeks, we will keep the measure in place ... so that we can firmly ease strains on hospitals" to meet conditions for lifting the emergency measures, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters.

Nishimura said the government has received preliminary approval from experts to extend the emergency through March 21 for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is to formally announce the plan Friday night after parliament approval.

He said medical systems in the region are still burdened with COVID-19 patients and more hospital beds have to be freed.

Suga declared a monthlong emergency on January 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba that was later extended through March 7. An emergency that applied to other urban prefectures was lifted last week, underscoring the government's eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.

The state of emergency, which is a non-binding request, centres around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to voluntarily close at 8 pm. Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low with social distancing and such voluntary measures.

Controlling the spread of the virus, along with progress in vaccination, is considered key for Japan as Tokyo is to host the Olympics, delayed by one year because of the virus, starting July 23.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the heads of neighbouring prefectures have raised concerns that a lifting of the emergency this weekend could trigger a quick rebound in infections.

Daily new cases in Tokyo have decreased significantly after peaking at about 2,000 in early January, but the decline has slowed recently. Tokyo on Thursday reported 278 new cases, slightly down from 316 from the day before, raising its total to 112,624. Nationwide, Japan reported more than 436,000 cases and about 8,000 deaths as of Thursday.

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