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More prefectures in Japan declaring states of emergency over coronavirus

A large display in front of JR Shinjuku Station shows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking at a press conference held after a state-of-emergency declaration due to the new coronavirus pandemic, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on April 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

While the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the novel coronavirus covers only Tokyo and six other prefectures in Japan, many prefectures that were not included are going forward with their own state of emergency declarations and local governments with a sense of crisis are taking matters into their own hands.

April 14 marked one week since the national government declared a state of emergency under a revised special measures law to tackle new types of influenza and other infectious diseases. In addition to Tokyo, the declaration included Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures but there are nine prefectures that already have or are in the process of declaring a state of emergency on their own.

Aichi Prefecture in central Japan, which is seeking that it be included among the prefectures under the state of emergency as declared by the national government, declared a state of emergency on its own on April 10, and strongly called on the public to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary. On the same day, Gifu Prefecture, also in central Japan, and Mie Prefecture, in western Japan, each issued their own versions of state of the emergency declarations.

Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, which was the first to issue its own state of emergency declaration in late February, announced on April 12 that "people infected with the coronavirus were starting to increase again," and together with the prefectural capital of Sapporo, issued an "emergency joint declaration." Similar measures were taken in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa on April 13, and on the following day in the neighboring prefecture Fukui as well as Kagawa Prefecture in western Japan. Both Shiga Prefecture, also in western Japan, and Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan are considering declaring a state of emergency.

In contrast to local governments that feel an increasing sense of crisis, those close to the prime minister have repeated that whether other prefectures will be added to the list of prefectures under the national government's state of emergency declaration "is the experts' judgment call." The plan is to analyze such factors as the cumulative number of those who tested positive for the virus, the number of days it takes for the number of people infected to double, and the percentage of coronavirus patients whose infection route cannot be identified for each region.

When the state of emergency declaration will be called off is a focal point. The deadline for the current declaration is set for May 6. The government is aiming for a reduction of person-to-person contact by 80%, creating a state in which the average number that one infected person has infected another person is below 1, and for a retraction of the state of emergency declaration as soon as possible. It is set to analyze location information from cell phones provided by the private sector and trends of railway users to determine the effects.

At a plenary session of the House of Representatives April 14, Prime Minister Abe said, "As of April 12, the crowds have decreased to a certain extent. Compared to last year, (the crowds) in Shibuya have decreased by roughly 70%, while in Yokohama and Umeda, they have gone down by about 80%." He also said of the timing for lifting the state of emergency, "I will make a comprehensive decision based on expert assessments."

Meanwhile, Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters, "In any case, we will show results in a month and find a path toward an end to the spread of the virus."

(Japanese original by Koichi Uchida, City News Department, Yusuke Kaite and Shuhei Endo Political News Department)

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