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Concerns raised over Aichi Pref.'s exclusion from Japan COVID-19 state of emergency areas

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, right, is seen speaking at a meeting of the government's expert panel on the novel coronavirus, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on April 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Kentaro Ikushima)
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura is seen speaking at a press conference in Nagoya's Naka Ward, in this file photo from Oct. 23, 2019. (Mainichi/Naoto Takeda)

NAGOYA -- With the fifth highest number of confirmed novel coronavirus infections in the country, and total deaths so far second only to Tokyo, questions have been raised as to why the central Japan prefecture of Aichi was left out of the government's state of emergency declaration.

Answering questions on the issue at a House of Councillors Committee on Rules and Administration meeting on April 7, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura responded, "The rate of infection is doubling in Tokyo every five days, and every six days in Osaka, whereas in Aichi it's every 23 days or so. So it's moving at a very slow pace there. Additionally, the number of cases there where the route of infection is unknown account for 27%, which is relatively low. So it was decided to forgo including it in the state of emergency."

But he also voiced concerns that areas not among the prefectures placed under a state of emergency could become more relaxed about virus prevention, saying, "Particularly in the prefectures of Aichi, Kyoto and Hokkaido, where there are many (COVID-19) patients, we will continue to maintain a thorough response." His remarks suggested that, depending on the circumstances, locations currently exempt from the state of emergency declaration could still be included in it.

Speaking to reporters on April 7 about being left out of the declaration, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said, "It means that Aichi Prefecture is holding up for now." When the government's panel of experts included Aichi among a list of five prefectures that it said had a health care system under pressure on April 1, the governor shot back that the system was "more than capable," and voiced his opposition to the claims to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

But on April 7, he struck a more cautious tone and acknowledged that, due to the prefecture's position between the greater Tokyo region to the east and the western Kansai region where cases are increasing, its later addition to state of emergency measures was "clearly possible."

In a joint effort with the governors of neighboring Mie and Gifu prefectures, Gov. Omura appealed for citizens of the three prefectures to refrain from going to the areas under a state of emergency until after May 6, and not to make unnecessary visits to see family, friends or work-related connections in those locations until that time.

Conversely, Takashi Kawamura, mayor of the Aichi Prefecture capital of Nagoya, has said, "I will ask the national government to include Aichi in the regions (under a state of emergency)." Explaining his thinking behind the request, he cited concerns about people from Tokyo and Osaka coming to the area for work, saying, "There is a possibility that people will drift this way."

He continued, "Nagoya has taken an appropriate response and kept this virus down. It's unreasonable for us to have made this great effort so far, only to then go through hard times again."

Another mayor at a city in Aichi Prefecture spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about the government's economic package to combat the effects of the coronavirus, saying, "If special measures limited only to the areas (under a state of emergency) are taken, it will be damaging for Aichi Prefecture." Mayor Kawamura touched on similar concerns, saying, "Disparities must not be allowed to emerge (between areas in and out of a state of emergency.)"

(Japanese original by Atsuko Ota, Nagoya News Center, and Toru Kuroo, Handa Resident Bureau)

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