Emergency declaration extended until March 21 in Tokyo metropolitan area

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shigeru Omi, head of the government advisory committee on measures against the coronavirus, left, and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of government COVID-19 measures, talk before a meeting of the committee in Tokyo on Friday.

The government decided Friday to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures by two weeks, or until March 21.

On Friday morning, it made a proposal on the extension to the advisory committee on basic response measures for the novel coronavirus, and the committee approved the proposal.

“Even if the purpose is protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people, I am sincerely sorry that I came to the conclusion that an about two-week extension is necessary,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting. “We should prevent a rebound [of infection numbers] by all possible means. I will do my best.”

The advisory committee, which consists of experts, also approved a draft revision of the government’s basic coronavirus response policy. It includes measures such as conducting widespread polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect signs of spread of the virus and sources of infections.

In order to deal with mutated forms of the virus, promotion of “active epidemiological study,” in which public health centers determine the routes of infections based on the action history of infected patients, was also included in the draft.

The draft calls for strengthening the system of public health centers through measures such as outsourcing.

The government aims to reduce the number of new infections and improve hospital bed occupancy rates by proceeding with these measures.

The governments of Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures — Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa — will continue prevention measures such as requesting shorter operation hours for restaurants and other establishments, asking them to close by 8 p.m.

They will keep the attendance limit for large-scale events at 50% of capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is less.

They will also keep asking residents to refrain from nonessential and nonurgent outings, including during daytime, and will ask companies to use telecommuting to reduce the number of workers in the office by 70%.

A rebound of infections is “most likely” in the Tokyo metropolitan area, said Shigeru Omi, head of the government advisory committee, at the Budget Committee meeting.

He said the most important purpose of the extension is “to strengthen the system to cope with the spread of infections.”

The current state of emergency to cover Tokyo and the three prefectures was declared on Jan. 7 and extended in February for another month through March 7. Since the pandemic began, this is the first time a state of emergency has had a second extension.