National

Abe nears decision on emergency declaration as Tokyo coronavirus cases surge

Jiji

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to make a decision soon on whether to declare a state of emergency over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, following a surge in the number of infections — especially in Tokyo — sources said Sunday.

Abe met with health minister Katsunobu Kato, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga Sunday, when Tokyo confirmed more than 140 new cases of the virus.

Some in the Abe administration believe a state of emergency declaration is inevitable if the government hopes to prevent the virus from spreading more widely throughout the country.

It is “just a matter of time” before Abe declares a state of emergency, a government source said, citing the growing number of infections in Tokyo.

A revised special law for fighting new types of influenza was enacted in March to also cover the new coronavirus, believed to have originated in China, allowing the government to declare a state of emergency over the ongoing crisis.

Once a declaration is made, prefectural governors covered under the state of emergency would be able to issue instructions “requesting” people refrain from going out and stop using commercial facilities, among other things. They would also be authorized to forcibly seize plots of land to construct hospitals. Such actions, however, could lead to the limiting of private rights.

Kato told reporters after Sunday’s meeting, held at the Prime Minister’s Office, that the participants discussed the current coronavirus situation.

Nishimura said that the situation in Tokyo, as well as that of other areas nationwide, were discussed.

The coronavirus situation is “very tense,” Nishimura said in a television program earlier in the day, when asked about the possibility of the government declaring a state of emergency.

However, declaring a state of emergency after an “overshoot” — an explosive increase in the number of infections — “would be too late,” Nishimura said.

“The government will do it without hesitation if signs of an overshoot are observed,” he said.

Nishimura also said a state of emergency declaration would “send a big message,” but admitted that there are limits related to the measure, such as a lack of penalties for people who refuse to follow instructions for not going out or holding events.

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