• AFP-JIJI, KYODO

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The state of emergency declared in Japan on Thursday to tackle a record-breaking third coronavirus wave will be much less strict than lockdowns seen elsewhere, and softer even than the country’s first COVID-19 emergency last spring. So how will it impact daily life?

Which areas are affected?

The monthlong declaration is not nationwide. It affects four neighboring areas that account for much of the rise in Japan’s caseload: Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures.

The region, known as greater Tokyo, is home to more than 36 million people and accounts for a third of Japan’s GDP.

Other parts of the country are not affected for now, although several other regions were reportedly seeking or could seek to be included as cases continue to rise. These include Osaka, Kyoto, Aichi, Miyagi and Ibaraki prefectures.

What does the measure allow?

A state of emergency empowers governors in affected regions to call for restrictions on movement and commerce but offers little in the way of enforcement.

Governors can request people stay inside and call for businesses that attract large numbers of people, like entertainment venues or department stores, to close their doors.

But there are no punishments for those who defy the request, nor any other enforcement mechanisms.

The central government is seeking to introduce legislation this month to allow fines for businesses that defy closure requests, and provide incentives for those who comply.

So what will change?

This time restaurants and bars will be asked to stop serving alcohol by 7 p.m. and close an hour later, except for take-out and delivery.

Other businesses — from gyms to theme parks — are also likely to be asked to shorten hours, and telework will be encouraged with the goal of reducing commuter traffic by 70%.

Residents will be asked to avoid nonessential outings, especially in the evening.

The strongest power accorded to governors is the ability to commandeer buildings or land for medical purposes, for example requiring landowners to turn over property to build temporary medical facilities.

Local education boards can also close schools but officials say there are no plans to do so for now.

And reports suggest the cap on spectators at major events will be revised down to 5,000 people or 50% capacity, whichever number is smaller.

The restrictions are more lax than Japan’s last state of emergency, which saw many businesses closing altogether and shuttered schools.

How will the public react?

Despite the lack of enforcement, last year’s state of emergency was widely respected.

Suga’s government has seen approval ratings slump over its handling of the third wave of infections, with criticism of its decision to continue promoting a domestic travel campaign even as case numbers rose.

Polls from December on the prospect of a nationwide state of emergency showed a majority supporting the move.

What does it mean for the Olympics?

The central government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have steadfastly stuck to the line that the virus-postponed games will open this summer, and Suga said this week his determination to hold the event as “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus.” At a news conference Thursday night, he again reiterated his desire to hold the games.

Still, a majority of the public, even before the emergency, opposed holding the games this year, favoring further postponement or outright cancellation.

The recent retightening of border restrictions could theoretically affect visits by Olympic officials, but athletes are not due to begin arriving for months.

However, some health officials have warned the emergency would need to last around two months to have an effect on infection rates — edging close to the new March 25 start date for the Olympic torch relay.

People form a large crowd during morning rush hour at a station in Tokyo on Thursday. Under a state of emergency, people are asked to work from home as much as possible. | AFP-JIJI
People form a large crowd during morning rush hour at a station in Tokyo on Thursday. Under a state of emergency, people are asked to work from home as much as possible. | AFP-JIJI

The following is a chronology of major events related to the novel coronavirus and Japan.

  • Jan. 9, 2020: Chinese state-run media reports novel coronavirus detected in patient.
  • Jan. 16: First coronavirus infection confirmed in Japan.
  • Jan. 30: World Health Organization declares global emergency.
  • Feb. 3: Quarantine starts on cruise ship Diamond Princess, which arrived at Yokohama Port, group infection later confirmed among passengers, crew members.
  • Feb. 13: First death from new coronavirus infection in Japan confirmed.
  • March 4: Domestic infection cases top 1,000, including figures on cruise ship.
  • March 11: WHO declares rapidly spreading novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
  • March 13: Japan’s parliament enacts legislation that enables the government to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
  • March 24: 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed to 2021 due to pandemic.
  • April 5: Deaths from COVID-19 in Japan top 100.
  • April 7: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declares state of emergency for Tokyo, six other prefectures.
  • April 16: State of emergency expanded to entire nation, infected people in Japan top 10,000.
  • May 2: Deaths in Japan top 500.
  • May 14: Abe lifts state of emergency in 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
  • May 21: State of emergency lifted in western prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo.
  • May 25: State of emergency lifted in remaining prefectures, Tokyo, Hokkaido, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa.
  • June 12: Record ¥31.91 trillion ($309 billion) extra budget enacted to mitigate social and economic fallout from coronavirus pandemic.
  • June 19: Advisories on inter-prefecture travel completely lifted in Japan.
  • July 22: Japan’s domestic travel subsidy campaign begins to help revive tourism industry battered by coronavirus, excluding Tokyo.
  • Sept. 19: Japan eases restrictions on size of crowds at professional sports matches, movie theaters and other events.
  • Oct. 1: Tokyo added to travel subsidy campaign.
  • Oct. 29: Domestic infection cases top 100,000.
  • Nov. 22: Coronavirus deaths in Japan top 2,000.
  • Dec. 14: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announces halt of travel subsidy program during the New Year holidays.
  • Dec. 18: U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. requests the health ministry to approve its vaccine.
  • Dec. 21: Domestic infection cases top 200,000.
  • Dec. 22: Coronavirus deaths in Japan top 3,000.
  • Jan. 2, 2021: Governors of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama ask the central government to consider declaring a state of emergency covering their prefectures over the virus.
  • Jan. 4: Suga says vaccination against coronavirus can start in Japan in late February.
  • Jan. 7: Suga declares state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures effective the following day through Feb. 7.

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