The National Governors' Association on Wednesday stopped short of making a joint request for the central government to extend its nationwide state of emergency declaration over the coronavirus pandemic to further restrict the movement of people in order to curb infections.
The association of prefectural governors in Japan was initially expected to come up with the proposal in an emergency videoconference as the country's Golden Week holiday period started in earnest that day, a public holiday. But some governors reportedly expressed reservation in making a joint call, at least on Wednesday, sources close to the meeting said. It was not immediately clear when they will meet again online.
The state of emergency declaration is currently set to expire on May 6.
"We are now really at a critical juncture in terms of whether we can contain the novel coronavirus," said Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi, who heads the association.
The state of emergency was declared on April 7 for seven prefectures — Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka — and was expanded to cover all 47 prefectures April 16.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the videoconference, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said she was seeking the extension of the state of emergency declaration for the capital, describing the situation in Tokyo as “still severe.” Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai suggested extending the state of emergency for all prefectures. He pointed out that even partially lifting the state of emergency in some regions of Japan could result in a new wave of infections, as the situation is not yet under control.
In the videoconference, Fukuoka Gov. Hiroshi Ogawa said that the government should clarify conditions for lifting the state of emergency if it decides to keep the declaration in place beyond May 6.
Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido complained that basic conditions for continuing and lifting the state of emergency are unclear, possibly affecting people's attitudes toward cooperating with the declaration.
Toyama Gov. Takakazu Ishii suggested further revisions to the influenza law, which was amended to allow the prime minister to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus, with implementation of a penalty system for businesses refusing to cooperate with the government. Ishii referred to a number of pachinko parlors within the prefecture, which remain open despite strong closure requests.
Currently, under the state of emergency, governors can disclose the names of business owners that refuse to cooperate and even issue a business closure order, but the law does not mandate any penalties for violating such orders. Despite naming and shaming operators of pachinko parlors that refused to close under the state of emergency, some still remain open, which has raised concerns about whether the existing system is functioning properly.
Meanwhile, Yoshinori Yamaguchi, governor of Saga, suggested that it is inappropriate for the local side to call for an extension of the emergency declaration at this stage, stressing that his prefecture is working with the aim of achieving major improvements in the situation by the end of the Golden Week holiday period.
The association also called on the government to consider adopting a school year starting in September so as not to create gaps in education opportunities among prefectures, as well as among students, in the wake of the pandemic.
The government was also urged to establish a unified system to manage information on COVID-19 patients, including the number of polymerase chain reaction tests conducted to detect infection with the virus, as well as to boost its campaign to dissuade people from making trips during the Golden Week period through early May.