Japan to declare another state of emergency amid rising COVID cases

Published on : Friday, April 23, 2021

Japan has decided to declare “short and powerful” states of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and two other prefectures, as informed by a cabinet minister. The decision has been undertaken as the country struggles to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases just three months ahead of the Olympics. The new restrictions are expected to be formally approved later on Friday, April 23 and announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at an 8 PM (1100 GMT) news conference.

The new state of emergency is set to begin on April 25 and likely to continue until May 11. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura shared that under the latest rule the government will require restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol to close, and big sporting events to be held without spectators. He mentioned that breaching the restrictions in some cases will carry penalties under a recently revised law.

He informed that movement of people have to be absolutely limited and it has to be done decisively. He said that powerful, short and focused measures are required at the moment and also asked people to remember the lockdowns of last spring and stay at home. Nishimura later said in a press statement that the panel had approved the government’s plan.

Department stores and other retailers larger than 1,000 square metres will need to close while companies will be asked to make greater allowances for people to work-from-home. The state of emergency, a third round for Japan that would also include Kyoto and Hyogo would last through the “Golden Week” holidays and cover nearly a quarter of the population causing a further hit to the tourism and services industries.

Japan has so far avoided an explosive spread of the pandemic that has harshly affected many countries across the globe. There have been a total of about 550,000 cases and 9,761 deaths, which is significantly lower than the numbers seen in other large economies. But the latest rise in infections has created a strong alarm with an explosive surge in the mutant variant and a critical shortage of hospital beds in some regions, while Japan’s vaccination drive continued to remain sluggish.

On Thursday, organisers of the Tokyo Motor Show cancelled the marquee event for this year, in a move likely to raise more questions about the government’s insistence that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead this summer. Tokyo 2020 organisers said on the same day that a policeman who worked with the torch relay had tested positive for the virus, in a first for the event. 

Tokyo reported 861 new cases on Thursday, the most since January 29, which was during the third wave of the pandemic and a previous state of emergency. Several other prefectures will also continue to remain in a “quasi-emergency” state of targeted infection controls, and Nishimura said the duration would also be extended to May 11 for some.

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