Early End to SOE: This Week in Osaka Feb 19 to 26 2021

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Each week, here at Osaka.com, we bring you a selection of some of the top stories about Osaka making the local and national news here in Japan. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s always direct to you, from Osaka.

Here’s a look at some of the stories hitting the headlines in Osaka this week.

Early End to State of Emergency on the Cards

It looks as if restrictions could be eased in Osaka this week. Just in time for the coming Sakura season.

The so-called “third wave” of Coronavirus infections across Japan passed its peak almost a month ago. Since then the trend in daily infection numbers, both in Osaka and across the nation, tracked steadily downward. As a result, the governor of Osaka this week joined with his counterparts from 5 other prefectures, to request an early end to the state of emergency.

The mood from the central government seems to be positive, with Prime Minister Suga open to the idea. He met with his cabinet on Wednesday of this week to discuss the requests further. The rationale behind Osaka’s request for an early exit from restrictions comes from the decreased numbers of both daily infections and hospitalizations.

From the outset, reducing the strain on medical services, was the primary motivator behind the state of emergency. Leaders in Osaka, and their colleagues in Aichi, Gifu, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Hyogo now feel that those numbers are down to a manageable level.

Originally, the government intended to end the state of emergency on March 7th. However, if this request from the 6 prefectures goes ahead, they will come off the SOE list this coming weekend. This is approximately one week ahead of the intended schedule.

Some experts remain cautious however. Concerns remain about the dangers of emerging from the SOE too early. Whilst down significantly from January’s numbers, daily infection rates in Osaka and Tokyo remain in the hundreds.

Early Vaccine Feedback Positive

It’s a case of “so far, so good” with Osaka’s vaccine rollout.

At the time of writing, around half of the initial group of 40,000 key health workers nationwide have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The rest will get their shot within the next few days. With only minimal side effects reported, and no reports of any major adverse reactions, the program will expand.

From March, those eligible for a vaccine will be extended. Starting next month, all healthcare workers, and members of the Self-Defence Force are eligible.

The number of healthcare workers in need of a shot is larger than anticipated, so the next phase of vaccine expansion will face a slight delay.

Shots for the elderly begin from April 12th, around 10 days later than initially planned. However, government sources say they still intend to expand to the cover the general public by June. Hopes remain high among the cabinet that Japan will secure enough vaccines to cover the entire population by this summer.

Bizarre Suicide at Bridge Crossing

A line of taxis waiting to collect customers.

It is often a mystery as to what motivates the desperate souls among us who end their own lives. However, the circumstances behind a suicide near Osaka this week have local officials baffled. The Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge connects the Kansai region with Awaji Island. The island is a popular day-trip hotspot for residents of nearby Osaka and Kobe. Last Sunday, a young man leapt from the bridge to his death. How exactly he ended up there is the mystery. Around 1pm, the 20 year old man got into a taxi at JR Maiko Station and instructed the driver to take him over the bridge to Awaji Island.

About halfway across the bridge, the passenger asked the driver to stop the car. He then abruptly jumped out of the taxi before scaling the barriers and jumping into waters below. His body was found by a police boat about 2 hours later, approximately 2km off the Kobe coastline. The taxi driver called emergency services immediately but was too late to help the victim, who was most likely killed by the impact of falling into the water from such a height. The exact details of why the taxi driver stopped on the bridge, or how the victim was able to scale the barriers between the road and the edge of the bridge remain unclear at this time. Investigations continue.

And Finally…

Naomi Osaka continues to make Japan proud on the tennis court.

Much of Osaka sat glued to their TV sets last weekend as local hero Naomi Osaka claimed victory in the final of the Australian Open. Her win over tennis legend Serena Williams gave Osaka her fourth major title. The win also propelled the Osaka-born star to number 2 in the world rankings. In terms of performances this season, Naomi Osaka should actually rank number 1 in the world. However, in light of the huge disruption to the tennis calendar over the past year, previous years’ rankings are still a factor. This means that Osaka still has to clock up a few more wins to overtake current world number one Ash Barty. Barty exited last week’s tournament at the quarter final stage.

Given her current rich vein of form, most pundits agree it is only a matter of time until Osaka tops the global rankings.

That’s all for now but be sure to check back again same time next week for another round of this week in Osaka!

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