At a news conference at 11AM (JST) today, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that his government will “start considering a state-of-emergency” declaration to cover Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa in order to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. A formal decision will be made sometime this week after the government consults with its expert subcommittee.
If a state-of-emergency is announced, it would be the first such declaration since April 7th, 2020. However, Japan would not enter what would be considered a “hard lockdown,” since there are currently no mechanisms for forcing businesses or people to comply with government requests to shorten business hours, close non-essential businesses, or for people to refrain from going out.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and the leaders of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures on Saturday had urged the government to declare a state-of-emergency after the capital reported, for the first time, more than 1,300 new coronavirus cases in a single day.
State-of-emergency enforcement mechanism
The Prime Minister did reiterate that his government would like to amend the Special Measures Law (on which a state-of-emergency would be based) to offer benefits to stores that accept requests to shorten business hours and to levy penalties on non-compliant businesses. Such an amendment would have to first be approved by the Diet.
Regarding the current status of cases, he said that the “number of infected people exceeds 3,000 per day and the number of seriously ill people remains at a high level, which is a very difficult situation” and named four fronts on which the government would focus: infection control, border control, the medical system, and early vaccination.
Regarding a vaccine, Suga said that Japan is preparing to start vaccination by the end of February, with clinical trial data finalized by the end of January. He also said that he himself would take the lead in getting vaccinated.
Border control measures
Regarding border control measures, the Prime Minister said that at the end of December, a variant of the virus was found in returnees to Japan. As a result, Japan decided to stop issuing new visas to foreigners and tightened other immigration policies.
In addition, he said that if the new mutation of the virus is detected, Japan would immediately stop the special business travel mechanism currently in place with China, South Korea, and nine other countries. Under this mechanism business travelers from these countries are exempt from the suspension on new entry to the country.
Regarding the medical system, Suga said that the situation is still tight, including that in Tokyo, and that it is necessary to increase the number of hospital beds that accept new coronavirus patients. He also emphasized that the national government would work with local governments to secure beds and would not hesitate to deploy medical teams from the Self Defense Forces.
Goals for 2021
Regarding his goals for 2021, Suga said that first, he would like to put an end to the novel coronavirus pandemic and deliver effective results to the people of Japan.
He also said that he would like to build a society based on the policies of “digitization” and “going green.” In line with the first pillar of digitization, his government plans to launch a national level Digital Agency this fall. He also emphasized that he would accelerate efforts to for Japan to achieve zero global warming emissions within 50 years.
Olympics and Paralympics
Regarding the Olympics and Paralympics that are schedule to take place this July, he reiterated that he wants Japan to hold the Games as “proof that humankind has defeated (the coronavirus) and that the country is determined to take all possible measures against infection.”
Sources: Prime Minister’s press conference via TV Tokyo, January 4, 2020 (streamed) and Nikkei newspaper, January 4, 2020 (in Japanese)
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