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The governor of Tokyo on Saturday asked the Japanese central government to declare the new state of emergency as the country battles a third wave of coronavirus with record numbers of new cases.
Yuriko Koike, along with the governors of three neighboring regions, called for the measure to be introduced in their areas during a meeting with Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister responsible for responding to the coronavirus.
Japanese officials have been asking restaurants and businesses to close early in the past few weeks, telling people to stay at home. Measures which, according to Koike, “had a certain effect”.
“However, given the number of cases and the situation of the medical system in Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures, we decided to immediately and thoroughly curb the movement of people,” she told reporters.
Nishimura, who earlier this week said a state of emergency might be necessary if cases continue to increase, said the government considered the situation “serious” and would consider the request.
He said he asked governors to urge companies to further reduce their working hours and residents avoided unnecessary trips after 8 p.m.
On Thursday, Tokyo reported more than 1,300 new cases, well above the previous high of 949 cases set late last month. Nationwide infections also broke records.
Japan imposed the first state of emergency in the spring.
The move allows local governors to urge businesses to shut down and demand that people stay at home. There are no penalties for violations, but the requests have been largely watched this spring.
Six months until the Olympics
There was no immediate word on whether the governors would seek school closings. Japan was one of the first countries in the world to close schools. Then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for closings in February.
Japan has had a milder pandemic than many other countries, with around 3,500 deaths since its first fall in January.
It has also avoided the harsh lockdowns seen elsewhere, and there is no legal mechanism in place to enforce closure requests and requests for people to stay home.
The government hopes to pass laws at the next parliamentary session this month to provide penalties for violations.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who took office in the fall after Abe’s resignation, has been criticized for his government’s response to the new wave of infections and, in particular, for supporting a controversial domestic travel program.
The program was suspended during the New Year – when many Japanese travel to family visits – and government officials have urged people to stay home to help quell the new wave.
The government hesitated to impose a new state of emergency fearing the economic impact.
The new surge in infections comes little more than six months before the virus-delayed Olympic Games take place in Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 was postponed last spring when the extent of the pandemic became clear. Despite the optimism of officials and organizers, the majority of the Japanese public is against holding the Games this summer and is in favor of further delay or cancellation.
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© 2021 AFP
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