The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the special measures law against new types of influenza, which is set to be revised to apply to the new coronavirus outbreak.
Question: What is the government trying to do with the existing special measures law?
Answer: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is looking to revise the law enacted in 2012 to make it applicable to the new coronavirus.
Q: What kind of law is it?
A: The then government, headed by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan, established the legislation based on lessons learned from a 2009 flu epidemic. It grants the prime minister the authority to declare a state of emergency in the event of the spread of an infectious disease that could gravely affect people's lives.
Q: What is "a state of emergency"?
A: Once the prime minister issues a state of emergency, the governors of Japan's 47 prefectures can request that residents do not go out unless absolutely necessary, and order the suspension of the use of public facilities including schools, among other measures. It also permits the requisition of land or buildings, without consent from their owners, to establish temporary medical facilities, as well as the ability to forcibly acquire supplies such as medicine and masks from private firms.
Q: What can the central government do?
A: Under a state of emergency, the government can, among other things, decide who should have priority in getting vaccinated and would cover vaccination costs. If governors or social infrastructure operators such as hospitals and railway companies are not executing measures that the central government believes they should be, the prime minister can issue mandatory orders.
Q: Doesn't it seem a little high-handed?
A: The idea behind the law is that the rights of Japanese citizens guaranteed under the Constitution can be restricted to protect the lives of many. It's modeled after Japan's Basic Act on Disaster Management, which deals with major disasters, and the civil protection law, which stipulates the country's response in the case of a foreign military attack.
(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department)