As Japan grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, the situation is becoming increasingly tense, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Sunday, referring to the possibility of the government declaring a state of emergency over the crisis.
“We’ve been saying that we are on the brink of the brink, but it’s becoming a very tense situation,” Nishimura said during a Fuji Television broadcast Sunday. “Nationwide rampancy of virus infections is really approaching just right now.”
Japan’s revised special law on the fight against new influenza was enacted last month to cover the novel coronavirus, believed to have originated in China, allowing the government to declare a state of emergency over the ongoing virus crisis. Once a declaration is made, prefectural governors will be authorized to take strong measures that could limit private rights.
A state of emergency, if declared, “will be a a big message to young people,” Nishimura said, urging them not to travel to the countryside from large cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, where infections are spreading.
If young people go to regional areas from Tokyo or Osaka, they could spread the virus in the countryside, possibly leading to a dire situation, he said. “I want (young people) to make a level-headed decision,” Nishimura added.
There have been concerns that young people could become a source of infection because many of them are believed to show little or no symptoms even if they get the virus.
In a separate TV program on Sunday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged the government to declare a state of emergency “as soon as possible.”
In the same TV program, health minister Katsunobu Kato said, “It is necessary to maximize the effect (of a state of emergency declaration) while minimizing the impact on the economy and society.”
Tokyo confirmed at least 143 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, metropolitan government sources said, again breaking the record for the most seen in the capital in a single day.
The figure puts the total in Tokyo over 1,000, after 117 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the capital on Saturday, the first time the daily increase has topped 100, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.
Out of 891 people in Tokyo who were found to have been infected as of Saturday, those between the ages of 20 and 40 totaled 470.
According to city officials, younger people tend to move around more and it is difficult to confirm where they contracted the infection. Many students traveled abroad in March, the end of the school year, when infections spread globally.
Even if public health centers try to call up people who had close contact with those who were found to be infected and ask them to stay home for two weeks, many young people do not answer phones and seldom call back, the officials said.
“It is vital for young people to be more proactive in preventing the further spread of infections,” said a senior metro government official. “We will strengthen measures to reach out to them through SNS and other means.”
With a woman in her 80s confirmed to have died in Fukui Prefecture, the total death toll related to the virus in Japan rose to 96 Sunday, including passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined earlier this year.
Seven people in Fukui Prefecture, two in Saga Prefecture, two in Yamanashi Prefecture and a man in his 20s in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, were newly confirmed Sunday to be infected.
Also on Sunday, Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita said at a news conference that prefecture-run schools will be closed until the end of this month, withdrawing an earlier decision to reopen them Monday.
“Many people in Chiba commute to Tokyo, and we are largely affected (by the spread of COVID-19 in Tokyo),” Morita said.
“We might have been slow in making the decision. I am very sorry for creating confusion,” he added.
Government officials from the prefecture said entrance ceremonies, as well as ceremonies to open the school year, will be held but on smaller scales.
Yukiyoshi Yamano, mayor of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, said Sunday public elementary schools and junior high schools in the city will be closed until May 1, changing the earlier decision to reopen them on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the central government is considering boosting stockpiles of the antiviral drug Avigan to three times the current amount, sources with knowledge of the matter said Saturday.
The drug, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., is used to treat influenza. But it is also believed to be effective in treating the pneumonia caused by the virus.
Since the drug may cause birth defects, it cannot be used on expectant mothers or women who might get pregnant. Therefore, the drug has never been sold on the market and the stockpile has been maintained by the government as a precaution against an influenza outbreak.
Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co. began clinical tests Tuesday to evaluate the efficacy of the drug, also known as Favipiravir, on COVID-19 patients. If it proves effective, the government might approve the drug for use as a treatment this summer.
The current stockpile of Avigan is enough to treat 700,000 people if used as an anti-coronavirus drug, and 2 million people as an anti-flu drug.
Fujifilm Holdings has been asked by the government to increase the output of the drug. Since it has been increasingly sought by foreign governments as the pandemic spreads globally. The company is also considering outsourcing production, the sources said.
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