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Revised influenza law to allow Japan PM to declare state of emergency over coronavirus

From left, Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), CDP leader Yukio Edano, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai are seen in a meeting at the Diet building in Tokyo, on March 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Japan's special measures law to tackle new types of influenza and other infectious diseases is set to be revised to counter the new coronavirus outbreak in the country, allowing the prime minister to issue a "state of emergency" if deemed necessary, which could restrict the movements and activities of citizens.

The existing special measures law was enacted in April 2012 based on lessons learned from the influenza epidemic in 2009. It covers three types of infectious diseases; new strains of influenza, re-emerging types of flu that caused an epidemic in the past and new kinds of infectious diseases. As the pneumonia-causing virus differs from influenza and cannot be interpreted as a new transmittable disease, the Japanese government decided that revision was necessary.

When the bill to revise the law is enacted, the prime minister will be granted authority to issue a state of emergency in a certain area for a limited period of time if he deems that a swift, nationwide epidemic could have a devastating impact on people's everyday lives and the Japanese economy.

In response to the state of emergency declaration, the governors of Japan's 47 prefectures will have the authority to call on local residents to refrain from going out and either request or order restrictions on the use of facilities where a large number of people gather, such as schools, sports centers and movie theaters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's abrupt request for all schools in Japan to temporarily close down and his call to cancel large events have been called into question as they have no legal basis. Revising the existing special measures law would not only give these requests legal ground, but also allow the government to take a number of measures such as permitting the governors to forcibly allocating land or buildings for use as medical facilities.

While the bill for the revised law states that it should be applied in ways to minimize its effects on people's lives and the economy, it still holds strict legal binding force which could restrict people's rights. Because of this nature, some government insiders are raising questions over the necessity of legislation that would place limits on human rights as much as the special measures act would. While the bill places a two-year limit on measures against the new coronavirus, among other checks, the government is nevertheless urged to carefully implement the revised law.

(Japanese original by Ryosuke Abe, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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