Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants to make a decision as soon as this week on whether to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and other areas, and ramp up restrictions to contain a surge in coronavirus cases just three months before the start of the delayed Olympics.
The Tokyo metropolitan government and the Kyoto and Hyogo prefectural governments separately asked the national government on Wednesday for the application of a state of emergency. Osaka Prefecture did this on Tuesday. The decision will be made on Friday, government sources said.
If adopted in all four regions from Tokyo to Kyoto, the emergency measures would cover close to a quarter of Japan’s population of 126 million. But it was the moves by the leaders of Japan’s two-biggest and economically important urban areas that have put pressure on Suga to move quickly.
“I would like to work with local governments and examine the contents of their requests, and then make a decision as soon as this week,” Suga said. In previous situations, Suga sought the advice of experts and then announced a formal announcement.
Tokyo is looking to have a state of emergency in place from April 29 through May 9, to coincide with the Golden Week holiday period. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is considering asking large commercial establishments and entertainment facilities to halt operations temporarily once the central government issues the emergency declaration, sources said Wednesday.
The metropolitan government is now holding talks with the central government on the envisaged business suspension request, the sources added.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is concerned over the economic impact of the fresh state of emergency, sources familiar with the situation said. She hopes to have the emergency run for a relatively short period of time while taking tougher measures to curb the flows of people during Golden Week.
Specifically, the metropolitan government plans to call for temporary closures at department stores and shopping malls, excluding areas selling daily necessities, and other facilities.
On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 843 new infections, the most since Jan. 29 when its previous state of emergency was in place. Case numbers in Osaka have exceeded those in Tokyo in recent days, reaching a record 1,351 on April 13.
While Suga had pledged efforts to avoid reintroducing a state of emergency, surveys show public support to implement the measure. But tighter restrictions on activity could delay the economy’s recovery, deal a heavy blow to struggling businesses and further test the resolve of policy makers and Olympic organizers to press ahead with the Summer Games, set to start in July after a one-year delay.
The surge comes as Japan has only started vaccinating its general public this month, with shots for those over 65. It has administered 2 million doses to its 126 million-strong population and the government’s vaccine czar, Taro Kono, said the country is looking to finish its program by February 2022.
Suga’s government already tightened some restrictions earlier this month in Tokyo, Osaka and other regions to slow the spread, imposing measures that call on bars and restaurants to close by 8 p.m., and those that fail to comply face fines.
Under the current measures, commuter trains are packed, while crowds flock to stores and restaurants. Civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution prohibit a lockdown backed by police action.
Suga, who has touted the Olympics, scheduled to start July 23, as an opportunity to prove the world has defeated the virus, reiterated the government’s stance that the games will proceed as scheduled despite any state of emergency.
“There will be no impact on the Olympics,” Suga told reporters earlier. “The government will do its best to host the games in safety.”
There is no law that prohibits the Olympics from taking place under an emergency, but it will likely impact the number of domestic spectators allowed. Overseas fans are already banned from the event.
The virus surge has further soured Japanese public support for the Olympics, which would be one of the biggest global events of the pandemic era. More than 70% of those surveyed by broadcaster ANN over the weekend said they were against holding the games, which were expected to draw more than 60,000 athletes, coaches, national team staff, media and other essential workers from more than 200 countries, as scheduled.
Despite the rising numbers in Japan, the country has by far the fewest recorded COVID-19 cases of any Group of Seven country. Its death toll has also been among the lowest in the group at about 9,650, well below the some 128,000 in the U.K., which has a population about the half the size of Japan’s.
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