National / Politics

Japan's emergency coronavirus bill set to clear Lower House on March 12

Kyodo

The ruling and opposition parties agreed Thursday to vote on temporary legislation March 12 that would enable the government to declare a state of emergency if necessary as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces criticism about his slow response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The passage of a bill to revise the existing law on an influenza strain is likely as the Lower House is controlled by the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. The coalition aims to have it approved by the Upper House on March 13.

In a rare call for cooperation across party lines, Abe met separately Wednesday with opposition party leaders who had criticized his government for failing to curtail the spread of COVID-19 — a respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus — sooner.

The government plans to make the envisaged law effective for two years from February this year.

The bill is expected to be submitted to the Diet after the Cabinet approves it on Tuesday. The Cabinet also plans to draw up another emergency package the same day to mitigate the negative economic impact from the virus.

If a state of emergency is declared according to the temporary law, prefectural governors can demand that residents stay indoors, call for school closures and limit the use of facilities where large numbers of people gather.

The government will also be authorized to mandate that medicine and other necessary goods be sold at lower prices or handed over.

The agreement on the voting schedule in the House of Representatives was reached at a meeting between the LDP’s Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama and his counterpart in the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Jun Azumi.

“Irrespective of whether we will agree (on the bill) or not, we will not prevent swift deliberations because time is pressing,” Azumi told reporters.

The total number of infections in the country topped 1,000 on Wednesday, raising the hurdle for Japan to prevent a sizable increase in cases in the next two weeks or so — a period seen by the government as critical to stemming the outbreak. The tally includes over 700 people who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February.

Abe has said the bill is to prepare for the “worst-case scenario,” indicating that he will not necessarily declare a state of emergency immediately after it clears both houses of the Diet.

As the revised law will limit individual rights, Abe promised to consult with the opposition beforehand and be careful in deciding which areas to be targeted and for how long.

“We are not in a situation that infections have spread across the country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference, though small groups or clusters have emerged in various parts of the nation.

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