• Kyodo

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The Upper House on Wednesday passed legislative measures that will introduce fines for people and businesses that do not comply with restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While the government had initially sought to impose jail sentences on COVID-19 sufferers who refused to be hospitalized, the plan was scrapped after talks between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which categorized such a step as excessive.

The legislation comes after some people fled hospitals or refused to be hospitalized, including a man who ran away from a medical facility during treatment for serious COVID-19 complications to visit a spa and his office, saying he was worried about his business.

Health minister Norihisa Tamura told a House of Councilors committee that dozens of municipalities have reported instances of people refusing to be hospitalized or escaping from care facilities. “We’ve incorporated penalties to ensure the effectiveness” of antivirus measures, he said.

Currently, people with serious COVID-19 symptoms are hospitalized in principle, while those with mild or no symptoms are allowed to recuperate at designated hotels or at home.

Before the bills were passed, prefectural governments could only make nonbinding requests that antivirus measures be observed.

The enactment of the legislation that amends both the coronavirus special measures law and the infectious disease law will also enable the government to enact special measures to combat the spread of the virus without having to declare a state of emergency.

The government envisages that the special designation will be triggered when infections surge to the Stage 3 level, the second-highest on the government’s four-level alert system.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of the government’s coronavirus response, tried to quell worries that the conditions for triggering the new measure are unclear. He told the Upper House committee the government will use objective standards and will decide after listening to the opinions of experts.

When the bills cleared the Lower House on Monday, a resolution was attached urging the government to take into account how people’s rights might be impinged by measures aimed at curbing the virus’ spread, even in the absence of a state of emergency declaration.

The resolution also called on the government to swiftly report to the Diet if there are any changes to the designation’s period of enforcement or target areas.

The bill on revising the infectious disease law calls for introducing fines of up to ¥500,000 for COVID-19 patients resisting hospitalization and ¥300,000 for those who fail to participate in epidemiological surveys by health authorities.

The government has considered prison sentences of up to one year or a maximum fine of ¥1 million for people who refuse to be hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus and a fine of up to ¥500,000 for those who do not cooperate with epidemiological surveys.

The other bill that amends the coronavirus special measures law also calls for fines of up to ¥300,000 for restaurants and bars that fail to cooperate with orders to reduce their operating hours under a state of emergency and up to ¥200,000 for those that do not cooperate with measures imposed under the less severe declaration.

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