The government on Thursday set up a special task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus, clearing an important prerequisite toward any declaration of a state of emergency.
The decision reflects a recent surge of COVID-19 patients, particularly in Tokyo, which on Thursday reported more than 45 new cases, its biggest one-day jump so far. It also sends a dire signal to the rest of the country that Japan needs to brace for a potential “explosive” increase of cases like that seen in Europe and elsewhere, as feared by health care officials.
Establishing the special task force is based on the coronavirus special measures law passed earlier this month.
By establishing the task force, “each prefecture will be able to establish its own special task force based on the special measures law. By doing so, the government can further promote efforts to curb the infection from spreading further,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
The top government spokesman reiterated that the government is not thinking about declaring a state of emergency “at this point,” adding that the government should be cautious about such a declaration considering how disruptive it would be on day-to-day life.
Health minister Katsunobu Kato said earlier in the day he had shared with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an assessment made by experts from a government panel on infectious diseases that there is a high risk of the novel coronavirus being “widespread” in Japan. That step was part of the necessary protocol to establish the special task force.
In response, the prime minister ordered economic policy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s coronavirus measures, to create the task force.
If Abe declares a state of emergency, governors would have the authority to implement restrictive measures such as requesting that residents to stay inside.
Governors would also be allowed to temporarily close down public facilities. Prefectural governments would also be able to expropriate land in order to build temporary medical facilities to treat a surging number of patients.
Under the provisions, the prefectural government would be able to order medicine and food suppliers to sell their goods to authorities and forcibly procure items from any companies that refuse to do so.
The legislation enabling Abe to declare a state of emergency cleared the Diet on March 13 with rare cross-party support from the ruling coalition as well as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, the two largest opposition parties.
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