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Calls are growing for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus before it is too late.

“I personally feel it’s time (Japan) makes the declaration, and devises measures based on that,” Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association also serving on a government expert panel on COVID-19, said at a news conference Monday night.

Referring to an unofficial telephone conference held with other members of the panel prior to the news conference, he said, “Almost everyone agreed that it’s better to declare a state of emergency.”

On Tuesday, 78 people in Tokyo were newly confirmed to have been infected, Tokyo metropolitan government sources said. This brought the total number of cases in Tokyo to over 500.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, citing an increase in coronavirus cases in cities with an unidentified infection route, said that Tokyo and Osaka would be prime candidates to enforce measures, such as issuing stay-at-home requests to residents.

According to a special bill passed earlier this month to cope with the spread of the novel coronavirus, once a declaration is made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prefectural governors have the authority to carry out specific measures.

“The central government has said (Japan) is ‘barely holding up,’ so the declaration needs to be made at this stage. If we leave it too late, (the virus) will be uncontrollable,” Yoshimura told reporters.

While residents of Osaka have already been told twice to refrain from going out unnecessarily on weekends, “We have no basis for it without a declaration. The requests should really be made based on law,” he said.

Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, agreed that Japan is entering a new phase.

“We are at the stage where we seriously need to consider declaring a state of emergency, accompanied by compensation measures,” he said Monday.

As the expert panel’s main role is to analyze the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus in Japan, Abe will need to consult with a separate advisory committee, of which Kamayachi is also a member, when declaring a state of emergency.

“Japan needs to make a comprehensive judgement in consideration of a declaration’s impact on various areas, not only epidemiology,” Kamayachi said.

JMA President Yoshitake Yokokura said in the same news conference that the number of beds available for infected patients is nearing its capacity.

“So that the health care system doesn’t collapse, I ask people to refrain from going out and to enforce basic health practices, such as washing hands and gargling,” he said.

The association also indicated that guidelines for discharging patients, such as those with mild symptoms who can recuperate at home, also need to be reconsidered in the future.

At a meeting held Monday on measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike once again requested that residents refrain from going outside for nonessential reasons.

“There are frequent cases of people getting infected at restaurants as customers are being served. I want to ask people to refrain from going to establishments such as nightclubs and bars at this point in time,” she said.

She also asked residents and people coming to Tokyo not to gather at karaoke studios or go to live music venues.

As of Monday, the number of infections in Japan stood at around 2,650 including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined for two weeks near Tokyo, with 68 deaths.

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