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Gap in Japan's virus response as national, Tokyo gov'ts clash over travel restraint calls

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (Mainichi)
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- In opposition to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's request for the capital's residents to refrain from needless travel across prefectures, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said there is no need to apply that kind of restriction for every prefecture.

The gap between the national and prefectural governments' response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which became an issue when Japan saw a surge in infections from March to May, has once again surfaced in this crucial stage where cases are increasing for the second time.

In Tokyo, more than 100 new coronavirus cases have been recorded for the five consecutive days since July 2, and Gov. Koike called for people to "refrain from nonessential, nonurgent travel across prefectures" at a July 4 press conference.

In response to Koike's request, Suga explained at a July 6 press conference, "Looking at the situation of infections at the moment, I do not think there is a need to uniformly restrict movements across prefectures throughout Japan. We will proceed to ask for expert opinions while staying vigilant, and look closely at the infection status at regional levels. This is our basic stance as the state."

When asked about the gap between his explanation and Koike's, Suga said, "I would like to make adjustments with the metropolitan government, but I believe it (the call for a travel restriction) was a decision made by Tokyo."

The national government is to decide on the country's course of action in response to the novel coronavirus based on the basic measures policy of the revised special measures law for tackling new types of influenza and other infectious diseases. But in reality, prefectural governments have the authority to ask residents to refrain from going outdoors and traveling, as well as calling for the closure of businesses, among other requests.

Between March and May, there were times when the state and prefectures passed the buck to each other over matters such as making decisions to ask businesses to close and what standards to impose for lifting various restraints.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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