National

Extension of state of emergency mulled in Japan as COVID-19 continues to spread

JIji, Kyodo

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is holding discussions on extending the nation’s state of emergency by about a month to curb the coronavirus pandemic, government sources said.

The emergency declaration is scheduled to expire on Wednesday, but some in the government believe it is necessary to limit the number of prefectures covered depending on the local situation. Nevertheless, there is a growing view that keeping all 47 prefectures under the declaration is inevitable.

Government officials are discussing whether an extension should last until the end of May or to around June 6. Abe has told the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary-general, Toshihiro Nikai, that he plans to extend the measure.

The state of emergency was initially declared on April 7 for Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka — seven prefectures that had especially large numbers of coronavirus infections. It was expanded nationwide on April 16.

On Friday, a government panel of experts will meet to examine how public behavior has changed, the extent of the infections and the degree to which medical systems have been improved to treat patients with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Abe is expected to hold a news conference Friday to repeat his call for public cooperation, including requests to refrain from going out during Golden Week, sources said. The string of holidays officially lasts through May 6.

Also Friday, the government will release guidelines on reopening schools after the holidays, the sources said. Many remain shut because of the crisis.

As it continues to monitor the situation, the government will then hold a meeting of an advisory panel comprising infectious disease experts from Sunday to Tuesday.

The government's COVID-19 response task force will then meet to decide whether to extend the state of emergency declaration, the sources said.

"Unfortunately, the number of cases of infection keeps rising," Abe said Wednesday at a meeting of the House of Councilors Budget Committee.

"The situation remains severe in the country," he added, noting it was unclear whether the government would be able to reach a decision by May 6.

"I can't make a decision now" Abe said, indicating he planned to reach a conclusion after consulting experts.

On Tuesday, Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive of the Japan Medical Association who is on the advisory panel, suggested the state of emergency would need to be extended to all 47 prefectures.

The National Governors' Association also plans to ask the government for a nationwide extension shortly.

The emergency declaration gives the governors power to enforce preventive steps and allows them to request school and business closures, though there are no legal penalties for noncompliance.

The governors' association called on the government to clarify its conditions for lifting the state of emergency because municipalities are divided on when to reopen schools and the rate of infection varies from prefecture to prefecture.

"As both experts and the governors association are arguing for a nationwide extension, it is difficult to come to a different decision," a government official said.

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