Reactions were mixed following Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's suggestion Monday that the government may soon declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, following an unabated rise in infections over the New Year holidays.
Opposition parties criticized the decision as too little, too late, while some businesses lamented the further economic loss a second declaration could bring. Government officials say the decision may be made as early as Thursday and will last for about one month.
"The medical system is strained. Is it really enough to (issue an emergency declaration) for just Tokyo and three prefectures?" said Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Nobuyuki Baba, secretary general of Nippon Ishin no Kai, echoed such criticism, saying, "The government always ends up reacting after the event. A state of emergency should have been declared before the end of last year."
A 50-year-old restaurant manager in Yokohama's Chinatown expressed concern as he looked at his deserted establishment.
"I understand that the government will have to declare a state of emergency, but if it doesn't decide on financial support for eating and drinking establishments, we are going to be in trouble," he said.
Eizaburo Seko, 41, the owner of a pub that has been in operation for over 50 years in Tokyo's Kanda district, said his sales fell by more than 90% during the previous emergency declaration.
"If we have to close by 8 p.m., we won't be able to expect any sales at night," he said. On Monday, Tokyo and Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures agreed to ask dining and drinking establishments to close by 8 p.m.
Seko said he will again obey any requests for shorter business hours but criticized the government's response, saying, "If they don't aim at getting infections to zero, this situation will just drag on."
But many prefectural governors appeared to show support for the potential move.
"If infections are not brought under control in the capital and surrounding areas, we can't prevent a spillover" into other regions, said Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi.
Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka said, "If the big cities are not under control, tough times will continue for us here in smaller cities."
Reactions were also mixed among the public. A 63-year-old man from Tokyo said he believes it is "unavoidable" that a virus emergency will be declared again, following the one issued in April last year, saying it is "important for people to share a sense of crisis through the declaration."
"The economy is important but saving lives is the highest priority," he added. The man said he is taking precautions against the virus by staying mostly at home and avoiding dining out.
But Mirin Ito, a 32-year-old from Saitama Prefecture, said, "To be honest, I think the government decision is taking too long." The mother of two boys also fretted over what would happen if schools are closed.
Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures on Saturday pushed the central government to declare a state of emergency, days after the capital reported more than 1,300 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time.
"It is true that some people will face difficulty in maintaining their livelihoods if economic activities stop, but the most important issue is to ensure that the medical system will not collapse. We hope this will lead to a decrease in cases," said a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official.
Following Suga's pledge at a Monday news conference that the government will consider issuing such a declaration, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said her government will swiftly implement antivirus measures so that they will be effective.
Koike has also encouraged teleworking and staggering commuting hours to help curb infections.
Many firms expressed their intention to maintain or strengthen measures put in place when the first emergency was declared last year. NEC Corp. has limited onsite staff to around 40%, while Fujitsu Ltd. has asked its employees to refrain from group dining.
Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita called the emergency declaration "our last card" in combating the virus. He acknowledged it might negatively affect the economy but underlined the importance of beating the virus.
"We face a critical moment" to balance antivirus measures and the economy, he said.
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