National

Tokyo and central governments clash over what should shut in emergency

JIJI, Kyodo

The central government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government are at odds over a business closure request following the declaration of a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

The Tokyo government is hoping to request that a wide range of commercial facilities close based on a special measures law. But the central government fears that such a request will fuel anxiety among residents and spark panic buying.

The emergency declaration made Tuesday, which covers Tokyo and six prefectures, is intended to ramp up the country’s battle against the spreading virus.

But efforts in the capital, where an explosive rise in cases is feared, have had a shaky start.

“Barber shops, beauty salons and DIY stores are vital in maintaining daily lives,” economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said during a videoconference Wednesday with the governors of the affected areas.

The importance of such stores is stated in the central government’s guidelines on coronavirus countermeasures, he added, requesting that the governors draw on the guidelines.

Nishimura made the remarks with the moves of the metropolitan government in mind.

On Monday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike explained to metropolitan assembly representatives the planned scope of facilities that would be requested to close after the central government’s emergency declaration.

She caused a stir in some quarters as the list included a wide range of sectors, including department stores, hardware stores, barbers and izakaya dining bars.

Koike had planned to issue the closure request immediately after the emergency declaration. But she had to move back the announcement because the central government interfered.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is now arranging to allow barbers and do-it-yourself stores to operate as usual, a source familiar with the plan said Thursday.

Department stores, outdoor sports facilities, and izakaya pubs, will also likely be excluded. Izakaya, however, will only be allowed to open until around 8 p.m., according to the source.

Koike plans to announce the final version of the plan on Friday so that it can take effect from Saturday.

The Tokyo government has become frustrated with the central government over its moves. Koike was stone-faced throughout the call with Nishimura.

The central government, for its part, has become distrustful of Koike, believing that her repeated warnings of a Tokyo lockdown in late March caused panic buying.

A senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office said that the metropolitan government’s closure request “could give rise to an issue of compensation.”

Roughly 56 million people, or about 45 percent of the country’s population, in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka are subject to the emergency declaration, which calls for people to refrain from nonessential outings and some businesses to shut. There are no legal penalties for noncompliance.

“The government requests for business closures and compensation are two sides of the same coin,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told his peers during Wednesday’s meeting.

Koike echoed his view, saying the governors “must work together to strongly urge the state” to pay compensation. “Unlike natural disasters, (the virus) is an enemy we cannot see, but I’d like to regain our peaceful lives as soon as possible by tackling it together,” Koike told the governors.

Regarding measures that should be taken during the emergency, the central government’s guidelines, amended Tuesday, stipulate that governments of the prefectures subject to the declaration first ask residents to stay home.

The local governments will then check the effects of the stay-at-home request. After consulting with the central government, the local entities will issue requests or instructions to restrict the use of facilities, according to the guidelines.

All seven prefectures subject to Tuesday’s declaration except Tokyo are following the guidelines. They do not intend to ask facilities to be shut down at least for the time being.

The Tokyo government will speed up its talks with the central government, hoping to announce a business closure request soon and implement it on Saturday.

At a news conference Wednesday, Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the major opposition Democratic Party for the People, said that he has been “appalled” by the lack of coordination between the central and Tokyo governments.

He added that the effectiveness of the emergency declaration will not increase unless the two sides work together.

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