Japan PM mulls state of emergency as cases rise

2021-01-05 12:02:45

Visitors offer prayers on the first business day of the new year at a shrine in Tokyo on Monday. ISSEI KATO/REUTERS Japan may declare another state of emergency this week for the greater Tokyo area to curb a resurgence in the coronavirus, alongside moves to speed up vaccine approvals and beef up border controls. In a new year news conference on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan is considering an emergency declaration and it would apply to Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa. The 72-year-old leader also said the government will seek to begin vaccinations against COVID-19 in late February, instead of March, for front-line healthcare workers. He said he would "set an example" by taking the vaccine himself. "It is a fact that the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus has not declined but remained high in Tokyo and the three adjacent prefectures. Taking this seriously, we thought we need to issue a stronger message," Suga said. The prime minister is edging toward an emergency declaration under pressure from Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa. On Saturday, they asked the national government to declare an emergency after the capital saw a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year's Eve. "If necessary, we won't hesitate to dispatch the medical staff from Self Defense Force," said Suga, adding that the government will support medical facilities to ensure they are not overwhelmed. Suga did not say when the government would make a decision, but according to the All-Nippon News Network, the state of emergency may start in those areas from Jan 9. What restrictions could be enacted are not yet known, but many believe it would be similar to the previous state of emergency declared last spring. That move lasted more than a month and saw schools and nonessential businesses closed. Restrictions compliance Suga's government is reportedly planning to change laws to enable local governments to enforce people's compliance of any new restrictions because the national government has limited powers in punishing those who breach requirements. The number of COVID-19 cases in and around Tokyo has been rising over the past few weeks, prompting calls for the greater action. On Monday, Tokyo reported a further 884 new infections, bringing the national total to more than 245,000, with over 3,612 fatalities. According to Kyodo News, the four prefectures in the frame for an emergency are planning to ask owners of restaurants and other food and drinks businesses to close by 8 pm from as early as Thursday or Friday. After Suga's floating of an another emergency declaration, some criticized the government for being too slow. Others worry about the economic impact of such a move. "I understand that the government will have to declare a state of emergency, but if it doesn't decide on financial support for food and drinking establishments, we are going to be in trouble," a 50-year-old restaurant manager in Yokohama's Chinatown was quoted by Kyodo News as saying.