The government is taking a cautious approach to the possibility of extending the COVID-19 state of emergency for a considerable amount of time as public frustration simmers over business suspensions and restrictions on going out.
The emergency declaration is currently set to remain in place until May 6, the last day of the country’s Golden Week holiday period from late this month.
Many officials view an extension as inevitable since the rising number of infections does not warrant the full lifting of the state of emergency.
With Tokyo seeing over 100 new coronavirus cases for nearly two weeks, it’s unlikely that Japan can get the outbreak under control anytime soon.
“I don’t think (the emergency period) will end on May 6 if things remain as they are,” a government source said.
Some experts are even calling for nine months of restrictions on going out.
Meanwhile, senior officials are reluctant to extend the period significantly as they aim to achieve a V-shaped economic recovery ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which have been put off until the summer of 2021.
The emergency period will likely be extended by around one week, an official forecast, adding that the public would not be able to endure any longer than that.
Another official predicted an extension until the end of May.
An expert panel will advise the government whether to extend the period by examining how close the country and certain regions have come to reaching or surpassing its target of reducing interpersonal contact by 80 percent. It will also take into consideration daily infection trends and the climate at medical institutions.
If the panel proposes an extension, it is also expected to present options, including whether to maintain, strengthen or partially ease the stay-at-home policy. Its basic view will be announced before May 6.
It is necessary to make an explanation persuasive enough for the public to say, “Yes, we can do that,” a panel member said, emphasizing the significance of clearly showing an “exit” from the current situation.
But a government official said it would be difficult to say, by giving specific figures, that the state of emergency will be lifted if such-and-such things happen.
The timing of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announce on a decision about the emergency period is also being closely watched.
Some speculate that he may make such an announcement Thursday, when the Diet is expected to pass a fiscal 2020 supplementary budget.
Meanwhile, a senior government official said that Thursday is too early because the government needs to monitor the movement of people during the Golden Week period.
Under law, the government is required in principle to give prior notice to the Diet when lifting or extending a state of emergency.
The government “should make a decision on May 1 at the latest, given that shops and schools need time to prepare,” said a senior member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
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