The effectiveness of the latest state of emergency has come into question amid a continuing surge of COVID-19 cases, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has maintained the government is not planning to impose a stringent lockdown.
Japan is enduring a fifth wave of infections, with the nationwide daily count topping 10,000 for the first time on Thursday as the more contagious delta variant spreads.
The situation is especially grave in Tokyo, which has logged more than 3,000 cases for four straight days through Saturday, including a record 4,058 on Saturday. The daily count is rising even though Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since July 12.
Because this is already the third state of emergency of the year for Tokyo, and the fourth overall, medical experts have said that people in the capital are now growing tired of the measure and getting them to voluntarily refrain from making nonessential outings is no longer working.
During his news conference on Friday, Suga was asked about the possibility of amending related laws to give the government legal power to implement a strict lockdown, but the prime minister said that wasn’t an option.
Countries that have implemented strict restrictions “saw a decline in infections due to lockdowns, but the cases surged again … they had to rely on vaccines after all,” Suga said.
“I think (stringent) lockdown measures don’t really suit Japan.”
Suga added the vaccine rollout is the government’s top priority.
The government will expand the state of emergency to cover Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Osaka prefectures starting Monday while extending the current emergency for Tokyo and Okinawa to Aug. 31.
A state of emergency allows prefectural governors to order restaurants and bars to shorten business hours or close completely, with a fine of up to ¥300,000 for those that refuse to comply. But governors do not have the legal power to restrict people’s movement and can only request that they do so.
“I think it’s natural to discuss placing restrictions on not just restaurants and bars, but also asking the public to exercise further restraint,” if the government is still unable to stamp out the virus after deploying all available measures, including vaccines, said Shigeru Omi, chair of the government’s coronavirus subcommittee, who spoke at the news conference alongside the prime minister on Friday.
However, some say that Japan needs to start making more aggressive moves now given the spike of infections in Tokyo.
“What Tokyo needs now is a bold measure similar to a lockdown,” Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso told a news conference Friday.
To host the Olympics safely, Tokyo should have implemented strict lockdown policies over the past year after getting people’s understanding, said Tasso.
He added it is not too late to take bolder steps. Otherwise, the risk of infection will increase not only in the capital, but across the country.
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