(Bloomberg) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to declare a state of emergency, media reports said, after coronavirus cases in Tokyo jumped over the weekend to top 1,000, raising worries of a more explosive surge.
After last week saying the situation didn’t yet call for such a move, Abe changed course and will announce the plan as soon as Monday, media reports said. The formal declaration for the Tokyo area will be coming as early as Tuesday, the Yomiuri newspaper reported without attribution. The declaration could also cover the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa, as well as Osaka, and be given a time limit of six months, broadcaster TBS said, citing sources close to the matter.
The process for making the declaration picked up pace Monday, with Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is handling the virus response, meeting Abe alongside the government’s top expert adviser on the pandemic. The premier may unveil his plan at a meeting of his virus task force after 6 p.m.
The declaration could go into effect as Japan’s biggest-ever stimulus package worth 60 trillion yen ($550 billion) is set to be announced Tuesday.
The state of emergency, which comes after pressure from local governors and the medical community, doesn’t enable a European-style lockdown.
Declaring a state of emergency hands powers to local governments, including to urge residents to stay at home for a certain span of time during the emergency period. By contrast with some other countries though, there is no legal power to enforce such requests due to civil liberties protections in Japanese law.
Abe’s government saw its approval rating slip to its lowest since October 2018 in a poll from broadcaster JNN released Monday with a majority of respondents faulting the way the government has managed the virus crisis. The poll taken April 4-5 showed that about 80% of respondents said the declaration should be made.
The governors of Tokyo and Osaka have been pushing for the declaration as the recent spike in cases sparked concerns Japan is headed for a crisis on the levels seen in the U.S. and several countries in Europe.
Japan was one of the first countries outside of the original epicenter in neighboring China to confirm a coronavirus infection and it has fared better than most, with about 3,650 reported cases as of Monday — a jump from less than 500 just a month ago. That’s the lowest tally of any Group of Seven country, although Japan might be finding fewer mild cases because it has conducted a relatively small number of tests.
Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo advised American citizens who live in the U.S. but are currently in Japan to return home, “unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” It added Japan’s low testing rate makes it hard to accurately assess the prevalence of the virus. The Japan Medical Association warned last week that the jump in cases in the nation’s most populous cities is putting more pressure on medical resources and that the government should declare a state of emergency.
Tokyo reported 143 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, the largest number in a single day. It marked the second straight day the city’s daily infection tally exceeded 100.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is already pressing residents to avoid unnecessary outings, and television showed many of the capital’s main shopping areas almost deserted over the weekend. The Tokyo local government is set to begin leasing hotels this week to accommodate mild cases, making room in its hospitals for the seriously ill.
(Updates with media reports on area, time period)
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