National

Governor moves to get Osaka back in business by mid-May despite pandemic

by Eric Johnston

STAFF WRITER

As the central government prepares to extend the national state of emergency for the coronavirus until May 31, Osaka is moving forward with a plan that could reopen more businesses in the area by the middle of the month.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Saturday that, from May 15, the prefecture would begin judging whether to lift the request for nonessential businesses to close and for people to stay indoors. Criteria for the decision include the prefectural infection rate, the number of those who don’t know how they became infected and the situation with hospital beds at the time.

“For closed businesses, every day is a matter of survival, and one month to remain closed is a heavy burden. For one week (May 7 to 14), we want them to endure. We’ll judge whether we partially lift the restrictions from May 15,” Yoshimura said.

Yoshimura’s announcement comes despite a government panel last week recommending that last month’s emergency request be kept in place for now. Infections have not fallen as sharply as hoped since the initial state of emergency was declared on April 7 for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures. It was extended to the entire country on April 16th.

Osaka’s move also comes as frustration appears to be growing among governors with the limits of the law governing the state of emergency. A Kyodo News survey released over the weekend showed 22 of the nation’s 47 governors think they have insufficient authority to deal with the pandemic despite the emergency declaration.

Eight, including those from Kyoto, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima, said it was necessary to fine businesses that refuse to a governor’s demand to close.

But seven others, including the governors of Gunma and Fukuoka, took a cautious view in the survey, saying strengthening a governor’s authority must not lead to excessive restrictions on individual rights.

With the emergency likely to be extended to May 31, local leaders will be under heavier pressure to either follow Osaka’s example or further assist local businesses asked to stay closed. Tokyo, Osaka, and Hyogo have offered up to ¥1 million in “cooperation money” to such companies.

Businesses in other prefectures haven’t been as fortunate.

Payoffs are as low as ¥100,000 in Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Niigata and Iwate, which has yet to record any infections. This has created worries about a widening economic gap between wealthy urban areas and less prosperous rural ones.

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