Japan Expands Virus Emergency and Extends It to Sept. 12
(Bloomberg) -- Japan expanded its virus emergency now in place for Tokyo and other areas to seven more prefectures and extended it to Sept. 12, trying to stem a delta variant-fueled surge that has sent infections to records.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the measures Tuesday, which bring a total of 13 areas under the state of emergency, a week ahead of the opening of the Paralympics in the capital. The global sports spectacle runs from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5 and is set to be held without spectators -- like the recently ended Tokyo Olympics. The government had previously planned to lift the emergency measure Aug. 31.
“Infections are continuing to spread at an unprecedented pace,” Suga told a news conference, adding the delta variant had changed the situation completely. “The government’s mission is to build up the health-care system so that people can receive the treatment they need.”
Suga said he wanted to reduce people’s outings to crowded areas by half and cut the number of commuters by 70%. He also said 300 billion yen ($2.7 billion) would be provided to local governments to let them help businesses hurt by virus-related restrictions.
The moves come as the number of patients in hospitals nationwide soared to a level more than twice previous peaks, and severe cases have also climbed to a record, putting strain on the health-care system.
As Japan hits new highs for infections, Suga has lost support over his handling of the pandemic, as he heads into a ruling party leadership election expected at the end of September, and a general election that must be held in the next three months.
A poll carried out by Kyodo News Aug. 14-16 found support for Suga’s cabinet at 31%, down more than 4 percentage points since the previous survey in July, and the lowest since he took office in September. Almost 80% of respondents said they were worried about whether there would be enough hospital beds for virus patients.
Japan’s states of emergency, which have few legal teeth, have become less effective in changing people’s behavior over time. Many bars and restaurants are ignoring instructions to close early and stop serving alcohol, despite the threat of fines.
There are no penalties for individuals who disobey instructions to stay at home, so many have continued their normal routines -- something that has mitigated the damage to the economy. The country avoided falling into a recession in the three months to June as a rebound in consumer spending defied virus restrictions.
Suga suggested a need to strengthen virus-prevention measures after he had rejected the idea of introducing a mandatory lockdown, saying it wouldn’t be accepted in Japan, while his top virus adviser, Shigeru Omi, said Tuesday that restrictions on individuals should be considered.
The prime minister set a goal of having half of the population fully vaccinated by the end of August, increasing the reach of the slowest vaccine roll out among Group of Seven nations. Japan currently has about 37% of its population fully vaccinated, compared with at least 51% for all the other members -- with Canada at 64%.
The spread of the delta variant, however, has caused renewed surges in serious cases, even in countries such as Israel that have vaccinated the majority of their population.
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