Japan will likely extend the nationwide state of emergency until the end of May at the earliest as the nation continues to grapple with containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, government sources said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday reportedly told Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), that he was almost certainly going to extend the state of emergency past May 6, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Returning to normalcy from May 7 is difficult and we need to brace for a protracted battle against the virus," Abe told reporters at his office on Thursday.
"I will consult with experts as to the length of an extension," he added.
Government sources said such consultations could happen as early as Friday, with a final decision being made by Abe at some point thereafter as to the duration of the extension once he has heard an expert panels' assessment as to the pneumonia-carrying virus' spread across Japan and other pertinent details related to the pandemic.
The final decision may come on May 4, the sources said.
"Local governments need to make preparations so I will make a decision sometime before the expiration date of May 6," Abe said.
Abe first declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 until May 6 for Tokyo and six other prefectures as infections had started to spike in urban areas.
On April 16, Abe expanded the emergency declaration to cover all of Japan's 47 prefectures.
Under the state of emergency, people across Japan have been asked by local governments to remain at home as much as possible and significantly reduce their amount of human-to-human contact.
Some businesses have also been requested to shut to contain the spread of the virus.
Coronavirus cases in Japan increased by 188 to 14,305, according to the most recent figures from the health ministry and local authorities released late Thursday evening.
The figures included 46 new infections in Tokyo and 28 in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.
The nationwide death toll from the virus has now increased to 468, including those from a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo.
In Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan's outbreak, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased to 4,152, accounting for more than one-third of all COVID-19 cases across the nation, followed by Osaka prefecture with 1,626 infections.