TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to declare a state of emergency over the novel coronavirus outbreak, government sources disclosed on April 6. Under a proposal being considered, the declaration could remain in place for a period of between three weeks and around a month.
Officials are considering applying the declaration to Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, as well as Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan. The emergency declaration would be based on a revised version of a law enacted in response to a previous influenza pandemic. It would mark the first time for such a declaration to be issued in Japan.
An advisory panel of experts in charge of basic virus countermeasures is set to be convened as early as April 7 in connection with the proposed move. The government, meanwhile, is set to hold a meeting of its task force to combat the virus later on April 6, apparently to confirm the plan to prepare for the issuing of the declaration.
The advisory panel will discuss whether the current state of infections in Japan warrants an emergency declaration. If the situation meets the two requirements for a declaration -- seriously threatening the lives and health of the public; and threatening serious damage to the lives and finances of the public through a rapid, nationwide spread of the virus -- then Abe is expected to swiftly issue a state of emergency.
If an emergency declaration is issued, then governors of the prefectures covered by the proclamation can request that residents stay at home except for going out to work or to buy food, etc. There is also a possibility that schools, movie theaters and department stores, etc. could be ordered or be asked to close. Orders or requests may also be given to restrict or suspend events.
Under an emergency declaration, the national government can also use land or buildings to set up emergency medical facilities even without consent from the owners. It is also granted powers to take such forcible action as expropriating medical products, masks and other such supplies.
To date the prime minister has been reluctant to declare an emergency, but the number of coronavirus cases has been increasing at a fast pace in the capital with 143 new cases registered on April 5 -- a record for a single day. The total number of novel coronavirus cases in the capital has now topped 1,000, and there has also been an increase in cases where the route of infections is unknown, meaning is it becoming difficult to contain the virus. Both Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura have repeatedly asked the central government to decide on making an emergency declaration.
(Japanese original by Aoi Hanazawa, Matsuyama Bureau)