Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday reiterated that there is no immediate need to declare another state of emergency despite a recent resurgence in novel coronavirus infections.
Speaking at a news conference in Hiroshima, Abe said there had been far fewer serious and fatal cases recently compared with when the previous state of emergency was declared in April, and that hospitals across the country were better equipped to treat patients.
“The aim is to prevent the spread of infection as much as possible while also keeping social and economic activity going,” he said. “It’s a very difficult task, but we will act quickly and as necessary to protect lives and livelihoods while avoiding a situation where another state of emergency is needed.”
After getting the outbreak under some degree of control in May, Japan has seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks, especially in urban centers such as Tokyo and Osaka.
There are concerns next week’s Bon summer holiday could cause another spike in infections as the period usually sees airports, highways and bullet trains full as people visit relatives in the rest of the country or go on vacation.
Abe called on the public to take precautions against spreading the coronavirus, such as avoiding the “3 Cs” — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings — should they choose to travel next week.
“I ask that we be especially careful not to spread infections to the elderly,” he said.
The prime minister reiterated the government’s stance of pushing ahead with the Go To Travel subsidy program to promote tourism, which began last month.
“We hope a new and safe style of travel will take root in Japan in the era of COVID-19,” Abe said, while asking both tourism-related businesses and travelers to take measures to prevent a further spread of the virus.
It was the first time for Abe to hold a press conference since June 18, immediately following the end of this year’s ordinary session of the Diet.
During a news conference on Thursday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked the capital’s 13.9 million residents to refrain from traveling to their hometowns outside the city during the Bon holiday.
“In the past, the o-Bon summer holiday was a time for vacation and time with family,” Koike said. “This year, I ask that residents refrain from traveling to their hometowns and reconnect with relatives over the phone or other virtual means so that we can protect ourselves and the people we hold dear.”
While some governors are calling for the public not to make homecoming visits during the Bon holidays, a government panel on the coronavirus response is not uniformly calling on people to avoid travel.
At a hurriedly called news conference on Wednesday, Shigeru Omi, head of the panel, asked citizens planning to travel during the holiday period, including trips to the homes of their parents living far away, to take thorough infection prevention measures, such as making sure to avoid the “3 Cs,” use disinfectant and wear face masks.
At a separate press conference later in the day, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said that he is not “uniformly urging citizens to refrain from” making homecoming trips during the Bon period next week.
He had sought caution over such travel, but now changed course to toe the government line pushed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. Nishimura, who is responsible for government measures against the virus, said, “I hope people understand the proposals by the panel and stay cautious.”
The panel asked people, including those visiting their parents’ homes, to avoid speaking loudly, ventilate frequently and refrain from eating with a large number of people, in order to prevent the spread of the virus to older people, who are prone to suffer severe symptoms.
It also urged people to rethink their homecoming plans and make online calls to relatives as an alternative if such prevention measures cannot be taken, and to cancel travel if they have symptoms such as fevers.
“Bon is a special season for Japanese,” and some people may need to travel to their parents’ homes, Omi said, suggesting that uniformly seeking restraints on such travel is not appropriate.
At the same time, Omi asked people to use online and telephone calls, and delay trips a little if sufficient infection prevention measures cannot be taken. “Our message is for people to refrain from travel if possible.”
The government initially planned to hold a meeting of the panel on Friday for discussions on points that people should keep in mind when they travel during the Bon holiday period.
The panel, however, released its proposals on Wednesday as the holiday period is approaching.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.