Japan is bracing itself for a state of emergency once again after Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura on Tuesday submitted a formal request for the order and speculation mounts that Tokyo, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures will follow suit later this week.
The government plans to declare a fresh state of emergency over the novel coronavirus in Tokyo, Osaka and Hyogo, Jiji Press reported, citing informed sources.
The decision will be made at a meeting of its coronavirus response headquarters on Thursday, the sources said, with the new state of emergency seen running for about three weeks.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, Suga said the central government was considering whether to declare states of emergency in the three prefectures based on the conditions there. Any emergency declaration, he added, would have no impact on the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to kick off July 23.
Prefectural governors are clamoring to find the means to fight back against a resurgence of the coronavirus, after the country’s second state of emergency earlier this year failed to extinguish a third wave and subsequent contingency measures proved largely ineffective in containing the viral resurgence that followed.
Fear is rife that the fourth wave — fueled by deadlier, more contagious variants spreading unseen through a populace made restless by months of restricted lifestyles — will be impervious to whatever measures a third state of emergency might entail.
More than two weeks have passed since new measures were implemented in the wake of the country’s second state of emergency, and yet new cases continue to soar in Osaka.
“If those efforts were effective, we would have seen results by now,” Yoshimura said Tuesday. “The situation in Osaka grows increasingly worse, which is why I believe the prefecture is in need of stronger measures.”
Previously, dining establishments in parts of Osaka Prefecture had been asked to close early. Those businesses — along with department stores and theme parks, among others — could be asked to close completely while the state of emergency is in effect.
Revisions to the country’s virus laws in February made it possible for governors to issue monetary fines of up to ¥3 million to businesses that fail to comply with repeated requests to suspend operations.
Officials are looking to increase the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients, as the record-breaking surge has pushed its health care system beyond capacity.
The country has declared two states of emergency — once in April 2020 and the other in January — and traversed three waves of the pandemic, each bigger than the last.
Though the first state of emergency was eventually extended nationwide and the second only to 11 prefectures, both were initially handed down in a handful of prefectures, then expanded and extended beyond their original scope and timeline, respectively. And both were followed by a rebound in new cases.
While the first state of emergency included closure requests for a broad swath of businesses — museums and internet cafes, among others — the second state of emergency had a narrower scope, instead issuing business closure requests mostly to restaurants, bars and other dining establishments.
Several weeks after the central government began incrementally lifting the second state of emergency in February, a number of prefectural governors imposed a fresh set of targeted but less restrictive measures in areas under their jurisdiction.
Those measures were intended to prevent a state of emergency from becoming necessary, but it’s clear now they failed to stave off a fourth and possibly larger wave.
Public officials are now faced with calls to declare a third state of emergency and confront the ongoing wave using stronger variations of the same measures, even though previous declarations — though they may have momentarily curtailed the virus — failed to extinguish the outbreak completely.
But the fourth wave is different from previous outbreaks in a number of ways, namely the growing presence of variants of the coronavirus that are deadlier, more contagious and harder to detect.
Not only could mutant strains accelerate the rate at which COVID-19 spreads through communities, it poses a greater health risk to those who become infected.
Meanwhile, new countermeasures took effect in Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Aichi prefectures on Tuesday. The same measures were already in place in parts of Osaka, Hyogo, Miyagi, Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures.
During both previous state of emergencies, the Tokyo metropolitan area — which consists of the capital and Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures — was treated as a unified block since countermeasures in one would mean little if traffic between them wasn’t restricted.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters Tuesday evening that she aims to request a state of emergency declaration “as quickly as possible.”
Media reports said the metropolitan government is considering calling for business closures in some industries in a bid to control the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants.
“Variants are exacerbating the situation,” Koike told reporters earlier Tuesday. “We’re watching the situation in the capital, and considering comprehensively what measures are necessary to stop the virus from spreading further.”
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