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The government has started discussions for revising the special measures law that includes provisions on the coronavirus, including a possible introduction of penalties for businesses that do not follow requests for temporary closures.

The government will aim to submit a bill to amend the law to the regular session of the Diet next month.

The discussions started at a meeting of a government panel on the coronavirus crisis on Wednesday amid the resurgence of infections around the country. “We gained (panel members’) understanding for the need to revise the law,” economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading the nation’s coronavirus response, told a news conference after the meeting. “We’ll promote the talks speedily.”

Under Article 24 of the special law, prefectural governors are currently only allowed to make nonbinding requests for eating and drinking establishments to shorten business hours and close temporarily in response to the epidemic.

The revised law would boost governors’ authority so that they can make requests for shorter business hours and temporary closures in limited areas where the virus is spreading rapidly. It would also clearly stipulate that financial aid be given to businesses that follow such requests.

The government will consider penalties, such as fines, for noncompliant facilities.

“It is reasonable to establish the legal basis for penalties,” Hakubun Shimomura, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said at a separate news conference on Wednesday.

As there are also voices against giving binding power to measures in the law, the government will carefully consider the matter while listening to opinions from experts.

The government revised in March the special measures law on the new-type influenza to cover the novel coronavirus as well. Both the ruling and opposition blocs have been calling for drastic revisions as the coronavirus crisis continues.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike met with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai at the LDP’s headquarters the same day to seek a revision of the special law. Nikai responded that the party will work hard on the issue.

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday after a government panel meeting on the pandemic. | KYODO
Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday after a government panel meeting on the pandemic. | KYODO

At Wednesday’s meeting of the government panel, Nishimura called on people in the Tokyo metropolitan area to refrain from holding year-end and Near Year’s parties and consider carefully whether to make trips to their hometowns during the holiday period.

The request came as infection cases continue to surge in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.

The minister said that the number of people moving around in the metropolitan area is not going down despite governors’ requests for restaurants and bars to shorten operating hours.

“We would like to ask people, especially younger generations, to spend the year-end and New Year’s holiday quietly,” in order to reduce burdens on the medical system, he said. “We must reduce contact between people.”

On restrictions for large-scale events, the government plans to urge prefectures to reduce the maximum number of participants to 5,000 again in regions that are recognized as being in Stage 3, the second-worst level on the four-tier scale gauging the degree of the spread of the virus.

“The restrictions will be tightened mainly in Tokyo,” Nishimura said.

Meanwhile, the panel members confirmed the “need to request eating and drinking establishments to shorten operating hours further.” In Tokyo, such facilities are being asked to close by 10 p.m.

“Tokyo is the leader of the metropolitan area, so we have high expectations,” said Shigeru Omi, head of the panel and chief of the Japan Community Health Care Organization.

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