Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a forceful appeal to the nation on Friday to stay indoors to avoid further the COVID-19 contagion, in his starkest remarks since the crisis began. New cases hit a daily record in the capital, Tokyo, before the speech in which Mr. Abe said this week’s nationwide expansion of a state of emergency was prompted partly by fear that medical services could fail in rural areas home to many elderly.

“Please avoid going out,” Mr. Abe said, adding that reductions in person-to-person contact in Tokyo and Osaka, two of Japan’s hardest-hit regions, were still well short of targeted levels. “Everything depends on the action of each individual.”

Mr. Abe, who has seen his support hit over his handling of the pandemic, also apologised for confusion over a plan to start distributing coronavirus relief payments next month. A supplementary budget had detailed payouts of 300,000 yen ($2,782.42) to households with incomes hit by the outbreak, but pressure mounted on Mr. Abe, some from within his own party, to step up the help with a payment of 1,00,000 yen for all citizens. Such a switch would triple the cost to the government to 12 trillion yen. Earlier, Finance Minister Taro Aso said the government hoped to start payments in May.

Japan’s emergency allows municipal authorities to urge people to stay indoors, but without legal force or punishments.

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