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Tokyo Gov. Koike hints at lockdown, but will Japan issue a strict state of emergency?

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike holds a press conference in response to a surge in confirmed novel coronavirus infections, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku Ward on March 25, 2020. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

TOKYO -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has repeatedly alluded to a possible lockdown of the capital, in an apparent bid to heighten caution against the spread of the novel coronavirus by using the term.

Countries and cities that are facing deteriorating situations, including places where the government has already declared states of emergency, provide examples of how close Tokyoites are to actual lockdown.

Koike touched upon the current state of major cities in Europe and the United States, which are taking increasingly tough measures to tackle the virus, such as tightening already existing bans on residents' ability to go out in public. "No one can be seen in (the streets of) Paris and New York. We ask for your cooperation (to prevent Tokyo from ending up in the same situation)," Koike said at a March 25 press conference.

From March 18, the Belgian government effectively prohibited its citizens from leaving their homes for anything but job-related activities and shopping for necessities. With the exception of grocery stores, all shops were shut down. Movement across Italy has been severely restricted since March 10, and citizens must carry forms explaining why they are outside. Punishments including imprisonment can be imposed on violators. In New York City, cinemas and art museums have been closed since March 13, and companies were ordered to let all employees work from home from March 22.

Conversely, Tokyo expects a lockdown that has no compelling force over the general public's behavior. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, if a state of emergency is declared under the revised influenza law, people's activities will be restricted based on an action plan it has devised. Land and buildings will be able to be used without consent from their owners to build provisional medical institutions and necessary medical supplies and food products, among other items, can be expropriated.

However, residents will be able to be asked and instructed, but not legally forced, to refrain from using certain movie theaters, department stores, barber shops and other commercial facilities where people gather. Hospitals, grocery shops, banks and public transportation will not face restrictions, because these businesses and services are considered necessary for maintaining society.

All the measures, however, are not legally binding and have no punishments. A representative of the metropolitan government said, "If people don't act according to our requests, we will issue another instruction. Even if that doesn't work, that's it." In other words, Gov. Koike's request for self-imposed restraint in outdoor activities will just be upgraded to a legally-based request.

There is a daily inflow of about 3 million people to the capital from neighboring prefectures for activities including work and school. Tokyoites face a higher risk of infection compared to people in other parts of Japan.

A metropolitan government executive explained, "The term 'lockdown' was used by the governor to spark a sense of danger among the public."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said in a March 27 Diet meeting that if a lockdown is issued in Tokyo, that would deal a further serious blow to Japan's economy.

(Japanese original by Mei Nammo and Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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