• Kyodo, Jiji


As the nation braces for a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, Osaka Prefecture is planning to ask the central government to designate the prefecture as an area requiring stronger anti-virus measures, while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has taken court procedures to impose fines on restaurants that failed to follow an early closure order.

Osaka is believed to be the first in the country to seek binding pre-emergency measures against the coronavirus based on a revised law that took effect in February, which include fines for businesses that do not comply with restrictions on operating hours.

“Looking at how fast the virus is spreading, cases will very likely increase this week,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Monday, adding that he will make a formal decision within a few days. “We have entered the fourth wave now.”

Yoshimura indicated the anti-virus measures would include making mask-wearing compulsory for customers at dining establishments.

The central government plans to respect a request from Osaka if it is made, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

“The prime minister would make the final decision based on infection numbers and the state of the medical system,” the top government spokesman told a news conference.

Osaka on Tuesday confirmed 432 new cases, the first time the prefecture has reported over 400 since Jan. 24. Osaka’s figure was larger than 364 confirmed in Tokyo on Tuesday. Over the last seven days, new cases in Osaka have totaled 1,933, more than double that of the week prior.

“Osaka lifted its state of emergency (over the virus) earlier (than the Tokyo metropolitan region), so I believe that rebound is also a factor in the high cases,” said Yoshimura.

Under the revised law, the central government can declare a situation that falls short of a state of emergency but still requires strong measures to combat the spread of the virus in specific areas smaller than an entire prefecture. Yoshimura is set to seek the state designation of this situation.

The western prefecture decided last Friday to extend nonbinding requests for dining establishments in the city of Osaka to close by 9 p.m. for another three weeks to April 21, and expand the measure to the entire prefecture from Thursday.

In Tokyo, four out of 32 eating and drinking establishments to which the metropolitan government issued the early closure order while the central government’s latest COVID-19 state of emergency was in place, were confirmed to have continued operations after 8 p.m.

Tokyo became the first local government in the country to issue an early closure order and also the first to take court procedures to fine violators, both based on the revised law.

“We carefully took the procedures to impose fines according to the law,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters on Monday. “It’s now up to the court to make a judgment.”

Under the revised law, prefectural governors are given authority to issue orders against businesses not complying with requests for operating hour cuts. Those not following such orders while a state of emergency is declared by the central government will be slapped with fines of up to ¥300,000.

When the latest state of emergency was declared in January, Tokyo asked eating and drinking establishments to close by 8 p.m.

After the revised special law took effect the following month, the metropolitan government once again made requests to 129 noncompliant facilities to shorten opening hours based on the revised law, which allows such requests to be upgraded to orders.

On March 18 and 19, the Tokyo government issued the early closure order to 32 eateries that remained noncompliant. After that, four of them operated by four companies were confirmed to have failed to follow the order.

Last week, restaurant chain Global-Dining Inc. sued the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in what is believed to be Japan’s first damages lawsuit over an early closure order. Of eateries run by the company, 26 in Tokyo received the order, shortening their operating hours after.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a one-month state of emergency in the Tokyo region on Jan. 7, later expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures including Osaka, Aichi, Fukuoka, and extending it for most of them to March 7.

The measure was further extended by two weeks to March 21 for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures — Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama.

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