Japan’s Abe Avoids Calling Emergency, Pledges Economic Steps

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there is no need to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus at this point, while pledging to support an economy reeling from the spread of the disease.

Abe told reporters on Saturday that the infection rate in the country remains lower than other major nations, while warning Japan cannot let down its guard over the virus.

Japan’s economy was already teetering on the brink of recession when the disease took hold -- infecting about 140,000 people worldwide and sending shock waves through global markets. Abe said concerns remained that international markets could fall further.

The crisis has also raised questions over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Olympics planned to start from July.

“Preventing the spread of the infection is the top priority at the moment, but after that we will return the economy to a sure path of growth,” Abe said.

Abe said he will work with the Bank of Japan and introduce further economic measures as needed. His government has unveiled two sets of emergency measures to help companies and people affected by the outbreak, while members of his own ruling party are already calling for a much more substantial package once there is a clearer picture of the damage to the economy.

Japan is set to increase virus-testing capacity to about 8,000 a day by the end of the month from the current 6,000. The aim is to prevent an explosive increase in infections and avoid overburdening the healthcare system, he said.

Abe spoke just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency. Trump this week suggested that Japan may want to delay the Olympics by a year. Japan and the International Olympic Committee have said they are going ahead with the games as planned. Abe told the news conference the Olympic torch relay will go ahead as planned in the country from March 26.

Parliament on Friday passed a law that allows Abe to declare a state of emergency, which would allow land to be used for temporary medical facilities and give more power to local governments to halt use of facilities.

Apart from the some 700 people infected from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan has had more than 700 confirmed infections and 21 deaths. Abe said about 40% of those infected have left hospitals.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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