Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three nearby areas on Thursday as coronavirus cases continue to rise, breaking a daily record of 2447 in the capital.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration to the government’s coronavirus working group. It lasts from Friday to February 7 and is about asking restaurants and bars to close at 20 and that people should stay at home and not mingle in the crowds.
The declaration does not impose any sanctions. But it acts as a strong demand as Japan juggles to keep its economy afloat.
Shopping malls and schools remain open. Cinemas, museums and other events will be encouraged to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will be published on a list, while those that meet will be eligible for support, according to officials.
“I am convinced that we can overcome this, but I must ask all of you to endure a limited life for a while longer,” Suga told reporters after the statement.
He promised more help to hospitals that treated Covid-19 patients. The Japanese military is ready to help and efforts are underway to get a vaccine approved and delivered, he added.
“Take this issue seriously as your own, to protect all precious life, your parents, your grandparents, family and friends over generations,” Suga said.
Coronavirus cases have increased in Japan after the turn of the year and the New Year holidays.
Shigeru Omi, a doctor who heads the government panel on coronavirus measures, described the latest wave as “explosive” and demanded the emergency declaration.
Tokyo has recorded record numbers of daily falls for two consecutive days, after 1591 on Wednesday. Nationally, cases have increased steadily by more than 5,000 per day.
Some experts say that Japan should have acted earlier, and a government campaign to promote domestic travel through rebates was a mistake.
Opinions about having eateries close early are mixed, as places can simply become more cramped in the earlier hours.
Dr. Hiroshi Nishiura, an infectious disease expert, said the increase in cases will decrease but infections will continue to increase. He believes that more drastic measures are needed.
Vaccinations begin next month
Vaccinations are expected to start next month in Japan, with health and key workers first. The expansion is likely to take months.
Dr. Atsuo Hamada, an infection specialist and professor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital, says it will help limit night drinking and dining.
“When people go out to eat at night, they tend to get drunk, talk loudly and sing so that airborne infections spread faster,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Keeping Covid-19 infections under control is imperative for Japan with the Tokyo Olympics set for July. Politicians have repeatedly emphasized that it must continue despite an increasingly dubious public.
A similar state of emergency was issued in April last year until the end of May and was eventually extended to apply nationwide.
The effort was largely effective. Japanese tend to follow orders from authorities, even without the threat of sanctions. Almost everyone has used masks.
A legal change is needed to allow for sanctions in emergency declarations, and such a measure will be considered in Parliament. Strict locking, as in Europe, is not considered.
Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities, said that the economic damage from the declaration will be limited, and real gross domestic product growth is likely to be pushed down by 0.2 percentage points in the first quarter of 2021.
“The emergency last year affected a large part of the economy, and it coincided with the time when the economy was already struggling to overturn global trade,” he said.
Other economists estimate a slightly larger negative impact on GDP.
During the second quarter of last year, Japan’s economy shrank by almost 8%, but has gradually recovered and increased by 5% during the period July-September 2020.
Trade has stagnated, although hopes are high for a gradual recovery. Some parts of Asia have not been affected by the coronavirus such as the United States and Europe.
Still, the restaurant and hotel sector will be hit, and state support is needed, says Maruyama.
Shingo Sakai, who runs La Rochelle restaurants in the French kitchen in Tokyo, said good food takes more than two hours, and his customers usually do not leave the office until after 6 p.m.
“We must maintain our food quality, and at the same time we must maintain our reputation by following the government order,” he said.
“I have to think about cutting costs to keep the company alive. There is no place to cut costs because I did so for the past six months. There is no room for that. ”
Japan’s unemployment has risen but has not soared, hovering around 3%. Bankruptcies related to the coronavirus have so far been around 800, which is high for Japan, according to Tokyo Shoko Research.
But the shopping areas are packed, a situation that has contributed to the latest wave of viruses.
About 250,000 cases have been confirmed nationwide with more than 3,700 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health. Hospital gets thin.
Tokyo Government Yuriko Koike and the heads of nearby Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures asked the government for the emergency declaration over the weekend.
“We must now realize that viral infections have entered a whole new step,” she said. “Tokyo makes the protection of human life a top priority.”