INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Japan was set to extend a virus state of emergency on Friday, just months ahead of the Olympics because of growing cases, as India logged yet another record number of infections.
While many western nations have begun a gradual opening-up buoyed by rapid vaccine roll-outs and falling case numbers, much of the world continues to battle a virus that has now claimed over 3.2 million lives.
Japan's Covid-19 outbreak remains much smaller than in many countries, with around 10,000 deaths.
But its vaccine rollout is moving slowly and more infectious variants are driving fresh waves of contagion, with record case numbers seen in some regions and medics warning that hospitals are under strain.
The pandemic has disrupted test events for the upcoming Olympics, with several postponed, cancelled or moved abroad, although the Diving World Cup and a rowing qualifier went ahead this week in Tokyo with athletes from abroad.
And with just three months to go until the games begin, Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura warned Thursday that "the medical system is reaching breaking point", saying he had requested an extension of the emergency measures.
The measures, which are less strict than blanket lockdowns elsewhere, had been due to end on May 11 but are now expected to continue until the end of the month.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of the virus measures, told parliament that the government will formally announce the extension later Friday.
Record cases in India
Grappling with the world's worst surge is India, where record daily cases have seen the country register up to half of all global infections in the past week.
Thursday saw the country post 414,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, another global record, as well as almost 4,000 deaths, according to official data that many experts suspect is a gross underestimate.
The southern state of Goa - known for its pristine beaches and status as a popular international holiday destination - reported a staggering positivity rate of 41 percent, the Times of India daily reported.
Second-worst hit was the capital New Delhi followed by West Bengal in the east, which recently completed an eight-phase election that saw mass rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians - events now partly blamed for the staggering rise in infections.
India's surge has also been worsened by chronic shortages of hospital beds and oxygen, prompting an outpouring of international aid to the country.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal indicated Thursday, however, that the crisis in the capital had eased slightly.
"Yesterday, for the first time, we received 730 tonnes of oxygen," Kejriwal told reporters on Thursday. "But these supplies are needed daily."
The surge has quickly spilled over to India's neighbours in Bangladesh, Nepal and to Sri Lanka, which on Thursday became the latest country to seal its borders with the South Asian giant.
All three countries are now fighting their own surges of the virus, which has even reached as high as Nepal's Everest Base Camp, where more than 30 sick climbers have been evacuated from the foot of the world's highest mountain.
'Highest possible alert'
While vaccine roll-outs elsewhere had sparked hopes of a swift return to business-as-usual, Australia's trade and tourism minister said Friday the country was likely to remain shut to visitors until late 2022.
And as big pharma and western governments engaged in a public spat over plans to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization on Thursday warned a "third wave" of infections in Africa due to new variants, delayed supplies of jabs and slow inoculation programs could be on its way.
"The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert," said regional WHO director Matshidiso Moeti.