Japan Set to Extend Virus Emergency by a Month Until March 7

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to announce a month-long extension to March 7 of the country’s state of emergency to control the coronavirus, Kyodo News and other local media reported.

Suga will make the formal move Tuesday after a meeting of an advisory panel, Kyodo said citing an unnamed source close to the matter. The extension comes as recorded Covid-19 infections have fallen from peaks hit in early January, when the month-long measure was first imposed, but not enough to warrant an end to the emergency that was due to finish Feb. 7.

“The number of infected people is falling but I think caution is still needed for a while,” Suga told reporters Monday evening. He also confirmed the advisory panel would meet Tuesday.

The current emergency measure has been in effect for 11 areas, including Tokyo and Osaka, that account for about 60% of the economy’s total output. It calls for residents to avoid going out after 8:00 p.m., while bars and restaurants have been asked to voluntarily close at that time. The extension will remain for 10 areas and be lifted for Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, where infections have fallen sharply from the start of January, Kyodo said.

Earlier Monday, Japan’s lower house of parliament passed two bills imposing penalties on those who fail to obey official coronavirus virus management orders, adding teeth to the current voluntary guidelines. The legislation was expected to gain final approval later this week in the upper house, which is also controlled by Suga’s ruling coalition.

The measures come as Suga has been trying to reverse a slip in support among a public critical of his virus policies and steady his LDP leadership ahead of an election that must be held by October.

For more on Japan’s Covid-19 fight:
  • What Does Tokyo’s Second State of Emergency Mean?
  • Japan Outbreaks Make Suga Look More Like Short-Term Premier
  • Japan Mulls Extension of Covid Emergency as Economy Sputters (2)
  • Virus-Spreading Youth Targeted as Cases Spike in Aging Japan

Under the revised special measures act, businesses can be fined up to 300,000 yen ($2,870) if they don’t comply with official orders to shorten their operating hours, according to NHK. A separate act on controlling infectious diseases would allow fines of as much as 500,000 yen on those with Covid-19 who refuse to be hospitalized.

It was unclear when the new legislation will come into effect.

While more media attention has been focused on the difficulty of finding vacant hospital beds amid infections that hit record highs in early January, there have been some instances of individuals refusing to enter a hospital. A survey by the western prefecture of Narafound 29 such cases over the past year, with people citing reasons such as “having a pet that can’t be left alone” or “having things to do at work,” the Mainichi newspaper said.

The government has said one factor in the decision to extend the emergency was whether it has succeeded in bringing the number of infections down to Stage 3 of four levels it has laid out. That would mean numbers in Tokyo need to fall below 500 per day. Tokyo reported 393 new infections on Monday, the first reading below 500 since Dec. 28 and well below the city’s daily record of 2,447 on Jan. 7.

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