Japan Prime Minister Considering New Emergency Declaration

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a New Year’s press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government will consider declaring a fresh state of emergency amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, covering Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

A meeting of experts will be held as early as Friday, and the state of emergency is expected to be declared this week. It is expected to last for about a month.

Speaking at a New Year’s press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, Suga said: “The number of newly confirmed infections did not decline in the first three days of the New Year. Tokyo and the three prefectures accounted for half of the infections nationwide.”

“I take this situation seriously and have come to think that a stronger message [by declaring a state of emergency] is needed,” he said.

The risk of infection is said to be high during eating and drinking, such as when eating dinner. Since the end of last year, the government has called on the public to refrain from dining out. However, the turnout in bustling areas in Tokyo has not decreased.

“Details to make [the declaration] effective will be worked out as soon as possible,” Suga said.

The stage of emergency would be declared under the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza. It would be the first since then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency on April 7 last year for Tokyo and six prefectures.

A state of emergency can be issued for specific areas over a set period of time if a prime minister judges that the rapid expansion of infections nationwide would have a “huge impact on people’s livelihoods and their financial situation.”

Governors of prefectures that are subject to a state of emergency can ask residents to refrain from going out, as well as ask or order limits on, or the suspension of, the use of certain facilities.

Tokyo logged 1,337 newly confirmed infections on Dec. 31, topping the 1,000 mark for the first time for a single-day figure. As of Sunday, the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Tokyo totaled 101, the highest since last year’s state of emergency was lifted. The current situation is weighing heavily on the medical system in the capital.

On Saturday, the governors of Tokyo and the three prefectures asked Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economic revitalization minister who is also tasked with handling the pandemic, to issue a fresh state of emergency, saying the increase in new infections showed no signs of abating.

The previous state of emergency was declared on April 7 for Tokyo and six prefectures, and was expanded to all 47 prefectures on April 16. The government initially planned to maintain the state of emergency through May 6, but it was ultimately lifted on May 25.

With regard to vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, Suga said: “The entire government is preparing so that vaccinations can start by the end of February. I am willing to be vaccinated.”

Until vaccinations start, the prime minister said, “It’s important [for the people] to move in the same direction, to get the number of infections declining.”

Regarding the resumption of the Go To Travel program to support domestic tourism, Suga said “it will probably be difficult if a state of emergency [is declared again].” Go To Travel has been suspended through Jan. 11 nationwide.