Japan likely to apply pre-emergency measures in 13 more prefectures

Jiji Press
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday morning.

The government is set to decide as early as Wednesday to apply quasi-emergency priority measures to 13 prefectures, including Tokyo, Kanagawa and Aichi, where infections with the novel coronavirus are rapidly spreading.

Priority measures are similar to a state of emergency, and is expected to be in place in the 13 prefectures Friday. The government is considering applying the measures for about three weeks.

The 10 other prefectures expected to be under the priority measures are Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Niigata, Gifu, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki prefectures.

Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Okinawa prefectures already have priority measures in place.

Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa’s governors held a teleconference on Monday afternoon, prior to requesting priority measures from the central government, and confirmed that they would work together on the issue. At the meeting, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said: “Tokyo and the three prefectures constitute a single economic zone and residential area. It is important to take joint measures in keeping with local circumstances.”

The four prefectures will discuss specific steps to be taken under the priority measures, including shortening restaurants’ operating hours and deciding whether they can serve alcoholic beverages.

The Tokyo metropolitan government had indicated that it would consider requesting quasi-emergency priority measures if the occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients reached 20%. Tokyo has seen a rapid rise in infections since the beginning of this year, and the occupancy rate soared from 3.3% as of Jan. 1 to 21.1% as of Monday.

Governors of the three Tokai prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, and Mie also held an online meeting on Monday, and decided to request the measures.

The central government was to confirm its plan to apply priority measures at a meeting of the relevant cabinet ministers on Tuesday. The official decision will be made at a meeting of specialists on basic policy and a government task force on Wednesday.

At a joint meeting of Liberal Democratic Party members from both houses of the Diet on Monday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “If infections are going to spread further, the government will firmly implement priority measures and other restrictions on people’s activities.”

The government has adopted a five-rank scale from Level 0 to Level 4 depending on the spread of infection. It starts considering priority measures at Level 3, the second most serious rank, or Level 2.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters at the Osaka prefectural government office on Monday that “[Priority measures] should be considered for the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region as a whole.”

The occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients reached 28.9% in Osaka Prefecture on Monday, approaching the prefectural government’s criteria of 35%.

Vaccine package may be halted

The government is considering suspending the “vaccine and testing package” that uses vaccination certificates or negative PCR tests to ease restrictions on the number of people in restaurants or at events. It has decided the package is not effective, as there have been many cases of breakthrough infections with the omicron variant in people who had received two shots of vaccine.

The package was introduced in November 2021 to ease restrictions even under a state of emergency or priority measures. Some experts called for a review after the omicron variant began to spread.