Japan's Abe to declare state of emergency over virus surge

Once imposed, the emergency declaration will become the first of its kind in Japan

Photo: Kyodo Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to declare a state of emergency over the spread of the new coronavirus, Japanese news agency Kyodo reported on Monday citing a government official. The declaration is expected on Tuesday, and will take effect Wednesday, according to an administration source. But first Abe is required to specify which areas will be targeted and for how long. Major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka will likely be targeted, the government official added.

The declaration, under a recently amended law, will come as Japan seeks to contain a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, which poses a significant risk to life and to the Japanese economy. 

Once declared, the first emergency declaration in the history of Japan, would restrict individual rights, allowing prefectural governors to call for specific action to prevent the spread of the virus. It will empower authorities to restrict the use - and request temporary closure - of places where large groups gather such as schools, social welfare facilities, theaters, music venues and sports stadiums and order the public to stay home. Yet, citywide lockdowns, as seen in other countries hit hard by the coronavirus such as China and France, cannot be enforced under Japanese law. People will not be punished if they do not fall in line, neither can business activity be banned.

Governors of areas subject to the declaration, however, will be able to expropriate private land and buildings if rejected by their owners and users for no legitimate reason. They can also requisition medical supplies and food from companies that refuse to sell them and punish those that hoard or do not comply. They can force firms to help transport emergency goods.

Abe has come under increasing pressure to take such emergency action to slow the spread of the fast-moving virus as the country's caseload rises. On Sunday, Japan recorded 143 new cases, taking the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, to over 1,000. The number of new infections recorded daily surpassed 100 for the first time on Saturday.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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