• Kyodo

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The government held an annual disaster drill Tuesday based on a scenario in which a massive earthquake originating in the Nankai Trough in the Pacific had rocked wide areas, however fewer officials took part amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Regional disaster drills were also held, many likewise scaled back, although some local governments canceled the events this year to prevent the spread of the virus.

The nationwide exercises are held every Sept. 1, or Disaster Prevention Day, which marks the anniversary of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated Tokyo and its vicinity in 1923.

The central government's exercise was based on the assumption that a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurred at 7:10 a.m. off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture, with rescuers also needing to take account of the pandemic.

"It is urgent that we supply aid while preventing the spread of the virus," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at an emergency headquarters meeting convened for the drill. "We will provide swift assistance."

In a simulated news conference that followed, Abe urged people to take action that would save lives and refrain from bulk buying in order to minimize panic.

At the practice emergency meeting, the governors of quake-hit prefectures reported damage to Cabinet members through a video link and called for the dispatch of disaster relief teams. The number of meeting participants was sharply reduced this year to prevent the spread of the virus.

To attend the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Cabinet ministers walked to the venue from their residences or offices as part of the drill.

Shizuoka Prefecture typically hosts an annual disaster drill, but cancelled the large-scale event this year due to virus concerns.

Meanwhile, Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures and cities will hold a joint drill on Nov. 1 in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. The schedule had been put off from Sept. 1 this year, when the Tokyo Paralympics were initially due to be held.

The sporting event has been postponed for one year because of the pandemic.

The country has recently been battered by numerous natural disasters. The Kyushu region was struck by torrential rain in July, which caused deadly flooding and landslides, while Typhoon Hagibis ripped through wide areas of the country in October last year, leaving more than 90 people dead.

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