Japan Mulling Declaring Emergency for Tokyo as Cases Surge
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is considering a state of emergency in Tokyo and surrounding areas, with coronavirus cases at record highs and Japan’s vaccine rollout still more than a month away.
Suga told a news conference Monday that the government would consult an advisory panel before finalizing the emergency declaration plan and didn’t providing details such as when the declaration would start and how long it would last. He urged people to avoid unnecessary outings and said a strengthened law on virus management would be submitted to parliament when it convenes this month.
TV Asahi reported earlier that the state of emergency could be announced this week and take effect on Saturday. It could last for about a month, network FNN reported separately. Japan last declared an emergency in April, but lifted the measure several weeks later as cases dropped.
Suga also said he would be among the first to receive a vaccine when the country started a rollout scheduled for late February.
“In Tokyo and the surrounding three prefectures, the number of infections hasn’t fallen since the New Year and is at an extremely high level,” Suga said. “We take this situation seriously and think a stronger message is needed.”
Past examples have shown that a limited, focused emergency declaration is effective, he added. The main push would be to reduce risks at bars and restaurants, which have been the source of many recent infections, he said.
The prime minister has been in a bind over the emergency declaration, holding off on a move that is at odds with his drive to keep the economy going. But he has also seen his support rate slip, with respondents to media surveys saying he needs to do more to halt the spread of infections.
He had already been forced to halt a domestic travel incentive program aimed at bolstering the tourism industry, which some blamed for spreading infections, and said Monday it would be difficult to revive it under a state of emergency.
Japanese stocks declined on the first trading day of the year following reports of a state of emergency, with the benchmark Topix Index falling as much as 1.6%. Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land Co. weighed on the gauge the most, falling 3.3% in morning trading.
Suga’s move on the declaration came after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the governors of the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa requested at the weekend that the central government take the step. The Tokyo government plans to ask bars and restaurants to stay open no later than 8 p.m., rather than the current 10 p.m., starting on Thursday, the Nikkei newspaper reported Monday citing people familiar with the plan.
The capital recorded 816 new coronavirus cases Sunday, with serious cases topping 100 for the first time since the state of emergency was lifted in May.
Suga said in late December that the central government was considering amending a Special Measures Act on virus management to introduce penalties for bars and restaurants that don’t comply with instructions to close early.
The change would need to be approved by parliament when it convenes on Jan. 18, and the government is hoping to complete the process by the end of January, Jiji Press said on Sunday, citing unidentified sources close to Suga.
The state of emergency currently allows local governments to direct businesses to close and to urge residents to stay in their homes, though there are no penalties for failure to comply. Civil liberties protections enshrined in Japan’s Constitution prevent implementing a lockdown enforced by police action.
Japan has had by far the fewest Covid-19 cases of any Group of Seven country, tallying fewer infections in all of 2020 than the U.S. has been posting in recent days.
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