COVID-19: Japan extends state of emergency

A large screen on a building in Tokyo shows a live broadcast of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declaring a state of emergency for the capital and three neighboring prefectures on Jan. 7. | REUTERS

At the meeting of the government's coronavirus task force, Suga said he felt a "strong sense of crisis" and that outbreaks in urban areas must be contained and prevented from spreading to other parts of the country. About 30 cases of the new variant have been detected since late December.

Tokyo, which has been under the second state of emergency along with the neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama since Friday, logged 1,433 additional cases, bringing its cumulative total to 78,566.

While many questioned whether that is enough to turn around the trajectory of the virus within a month, the prime minister said the goal will be achievable if there is strict adherence to the new request.

Experts have warned that even the state of emergency measures, which are non-binding and largely rely on voluntary cooperation, may be insufficient to significantly slow the infections.

Under the state of emergency, people in the affected areas will be asked to refrain from making unnecessary trips, and restaurants and bars will be requested to close by 8:00 p.m. "I believe we will be able to attain the goal if we push it thoroughly".

Suga stressed that promptly revising the special measures law to fight the coronavirus to add a provision concerning the penalty will be a top priority when an ordinary Diet session opens on January 18.

Japan Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa, in a separate news conference, said the government should not hesitate to consider a national emergency, noting that hospitals are already overburdened to the point of collapse.

Speaking on Sunday, Suga said Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo were in a "tense situation" and confirmed the Government was "ready to respond immediately if necessary".

The state of emergency now covers eight of Japan's 10 most populous prefectures and over half of the nation's population.

A host of COVID-19 countermeasures, such as frequent testing and reducing the stay of competitors at the Athletes' Village, will be in place should the Games take place.

The measures of the latest state of emergency are more relaxed compared to those under the previous one, with no punishment for those that fail to comply. Suga's government also plans to revise the infectious disease control law so it can penalize patients who defy self-isolation requirements, hospitalization or cooperation with health authorities, Japanese media reports say.

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