Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will declare a state of emergency on Tuesday to stop the spread of the coronavirus across the country, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, as the cumulative number of infections exceeded 1,000 in just ‘in Tokyo.
Abe will likely announce plans to declare the emergency on Monday, the newspaper said, while the Kyodo news agency said new measures are likely to take effect on Wednesday.
Pressure was mounting on the government to act as the rate of infection continues to accelerate – especially in the capital – even if it remains slow compared to the United States , European countries and China, where thousands of people have died.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said last week it sounded alarming at the high rate of cases that could not be traced.
Prime Minister may declare a state of emergency under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus if the disease poses a “serious danger” to life and if its rapid spread could have a huge impact on the economy.
The main spokesman for the Japanese government, Yoshihide Suga, said on Monday that a decision had not yet been made.
Declaring an emergency would give governors of severely affected areas the legal power to call people to stay at home and businesses to close, but not to impose the type of foreclosure seen in other countries. In most cases, there are no sanctions for ignoring requests, and enforcement will depend more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
The government is likely to designate the greater Tokyo metropolitan area for the state of emergency, and possibly also the Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan, Yomiuri reported.
According to the public broadcaster NHK, more than 3,500 people tested positive and 85 died in Japan from the COVID-19 disease associated with the new coronavirus.
While this toll is overshadowed by 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts fear that a sudden surge will weigh on the Japanese medical system and leave patients nowhere to go.
Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Public Health at King’s College London, said Abe’s decision on the state of emergency was too late given the explosive rise in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Abe must seek the formal advice of a group of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare a state of emergency. A health care professional on the panel said the decision to do so was “complex”, involving political, economic and other factors.
The government’s coronavirus task force – a separate entity from the expert group – is scheduled to hold a meeting on Monday evening. Government spokesman Suga said he was not aware of any meetings with the expert advisory group itself on Monday.
The governors of Tokyo and elsewhere have already asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. This had some effect, but less than many experts had deemed necessary.
Restricting movements and businesses in a state of emergency would be a serious blow to an economy that is already struggling to avoid a recession. The government is preparing a hundreds of billions of dollars stimulus package which will be rolled out this week.