National / Politics | FOCUS

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike scores win against Abe over business closures

by Isabel Reynolds

Bloomberg

Friday’s release of a list of businesses expected to close Saturday under the capital’s own emergency virus measures represents a partial victory for Gov. Yuriko Koike over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which had sought to put off such requests for two weeks.

Pachinko parlors, game centers and internet cafes in the metropolis will be asked to close, but izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs) will be allowed to operate, albeit only until 8 p.m., Koike said Friday. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the capital have surpassed 1,700, raising worries Tokyo could be the next global population center to see an overwhelming surge.

The measures, however, carry no penalties for noncompliance, unlike steps being taken by many other countries struck by the pandemic.

“There’s no way we could wait,” Koike told reporters in Tokyo on Friday. “This is a matter that affects the lives of Tokyo residents, and I am getting reports every day of the strains on the health care system.”

On Tuesday, the central government declared a monthlong emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures representing about half the nation’s economy, deepening fears it could be heading toward a record contraction of 25 percent this quarter despite the drafting of a giant economic support package. Other prefectures including Aichi and Kyoto are seeking to be added to the list.

Firms will be eligible for ¥500,000 ($4,600) in compensation for closing a business and ¥1 million for multiple businesses. Koike said day care centers will remain open, as will supermarkets and convenience stores, and there are no restrictions on shopping for essentials and medicine. Public transit will continue to operate as normal.

Koike had pressured Abe to make the emergency declaration, sparking a rare public clash between the central government and the leader of the world’s largest metropolitan area. Still, their spat has been far less hostile than similar rivalries in the U.S., where President Donald Trump has disparaged governors in virus-hit states such as Michigan, New York and Washington for criticizing his administration’s handling of the outbreak.

Abe said Japan was facing its worst economic crisis since the aftermath of World War II when he declared the emergency and made an emotional appeal for people to stay home. The move handed greater powers to the governors, allowing them to ask businesses to temporarily close.

While the sharp increase in infections recently has sparked fears of a crisis emerging like those in the United States and parts of Europe, Japan has so far fared better than most developed countries officially and has the fewest confirmed cases among the Group of Seven.

Koike has warned a “lockdown” similar to those in some European cities might become necessary. By contrast, Abe has repeatedly said Japan has nothing in its legal armory to allow such stringent measures, and even blamed his delayed emergency declaration on the need to dispel the misunderstanding.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank Group Corp., took to Twitter to blast the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, adding to criticism as Japan tries to deal with a growing surge in infections.

About 70 percent of respondents to a Mainichi newspaper poll said the emergency declaration came too late and 58 percent said it should have included a larger proportion of the country.

Koike and Abe have dominated headlines during the pandemic, working together to keep Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Olympics and reluctantly arranging an unprecedented one-year postponement of the games to 2021.

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