Japan poised to declare state of emergency over coronavirus | World ne…


Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is poised to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday in an attempt to stem a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the capital and other major cities.

The measure, to go into effect for about a month, will enable local authorities to urge people to stay at home except to shop for food, seek medical care, go to work if necessary, and take daily exercise.

“We hope to declare a state of emergency as early as tomorrow after listening to the opinions of the advisory panel,” Abe told reporters on Monday evening.

“We are seeing rapid increases of new infections, particularly in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka.

“Considering that medical institutions are facing a critical situation, I have received opinions that the government should prepare to declare a state of emergency.”

Abe’s apparent reluctance to implement tougher measures earlier in the crisis had drawn criticism from the Japan Medical Association and Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, where confirmed cases have surged in the past week.

Japan has avoided the large number of Covid-19 cases and deaths that have prompted lockdowns in other countries, but there is growing alarm over the rise in infections in the capital, particularly among young people.

Tokyo reported a record 148 new cases on Sunday, with a further 83 on Monday taking its total to over 1,000, according to the public broadcaster NHK. The majority of confirmed cases over the weekend involved people aged below 50, with many in their 20s and 30s.

More than 3,500 people have tested positive and 85 have died from the virus in Japan, NHK said. While the figures are low compared to the US, China and parts of Europe, officials are concerned that a surge in infections could place intolerable strain on the country’s hospitals.

The declaration will allow the governors of Japan’s 47 prefectures to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but they will not have the legal authority to impose the kind of lockdowns seen in other countries, or to fine residents who ignore the request.

“If you ask me if we can enforce a lockdown like France, the answer is no,” Abe told MPs last week.

He is also expected to unveil “unprecedented” stimulus measures in response to the “biggest crisis” the global economy has faced since the second world war, according to a draft document.

The 108 trillion yen (£800bn) package, which has yet to be finalised, would be much bigger than the country’s response in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis.

Koike has voiced concern over the high number of untraced cases and growing pressure on the city’s hospitals, and supports a “soft” lockdown to protect the city’s 14 million residents.

Legal revisions passed last month gave Abe scope to declare a state of emergency if the coronavirus outbreak posed a “grave danger” to public health and threatened serious damage to the world’s third-biggest economy, which is now on the brink of recession.

Officials are hoping peer pressure will encourage people to stay at home and to practise social distancing when they go out. Businesses that refuse to cooperate face being publicly named and shamed.

In addition, local leaders will be able to requisition facilities to use as temporary medical centres and order the closure of schools and other gathering places such as theatres, music venues and stadiums. Most of the country’s schools have been closed for more than a month following a request by Abe.

His declaration is initially expected to target the greater Tokyo metropolitan area – with a population of more than 36 million – along with Osaka and five other areas.

Under the declaration, hospitals will be able to transfer people with mild symptoms to specially designated hotels to free up medical facilities for more serious cases, local media reported.

Abe has faced accusations that he and other officials started seriously addressing the outbreak only after it became inevitable that the Olympics, initially due to be held in Tokyo this summer, would have to be postponed.

Schools and many other public facilities have been closed for a month, and some companies are allowing employees to work from home, but calls to avoid socialising at bars and restaurants have failed to resonate.

Citing evidence of infection clusters in entertainment districts, Koike has urged residents to stay at home for the past two weekends and to avoid crowded places until 12 April.

The message appeared to have got through this weekend, with several restaurant chains and shops, along with the capital’s ubiquitous pachinko and karaoke parlours, closing their doors. Rail and subway operators are also reporting dramatic falls in passenger numbers.



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