Osaka Prefecture in western Japan has independently declared a medical state of emergency in response to a rapid surge in coronavirus cases.
Governor Yoshimura Hirofumi told a task force meeting on Wednesday that infections are spreading at an unprecedented pace. He said the number of seriously ill patients is increasing quickly. The governor also said he believes the situation indicates that coronavirus variants are having an impact.
He added that the local healthcare system is now overstretched.
During the meeting, it was reported that the occupancy rate for beds designated for seriously ill COVID-19 patients at local hospitals could exceed 70 percent as early as Wednesday.
Officials also reported more patients are becoming seriously ill in shorter periods of time, even though the number of confirmed cases with the new variants is relatively small.
The task force decided to strongly urge residents to limit the number of people in gatherings to four when dining together. It added that all of the participants should wear masks. The task force is also calling on people to refrain from holding parties and making non-essential outings in the prefecture.