Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday extended the country’s state of emergency to Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi and Fukuoka, making the decision effective in 11 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
The state of emergency, initially declared on Friday for Tokyo as well as for the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, will expire on February 7.
“If we act as one, surely we can bring new cases down,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, the cabinet minister responsible for the country’s response to the novel coronavirus, said on Wednesday. “We have to do whatever we can.”
The cumulative total of confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan topped 300,000 on Wednesday, just weeks after the number hit 200,000 on December 21.
Later today, government sources said business travelers from 11 countries will be denied entry as early as Thursday, meaning non-resident foreign travelers will effectively be banned from entering Japan.
Hospitals and COVID-19 testing centers in major cities are increasingly overwhelmed – and local businesses left in limbo – as the country struggles to contain its third and biggest wave of the novel coronavirus.
In Tokyo, where the number of serious infections is at record highs, a growing number of patients with COVID-19 are being turned away from hospitals and interim health facilities – or redirected hotels for mild or asymptomatic patients.
More than 6,000 people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the capital were turned away from hospitals and isolation facilities between January 3 and Saturday. As of Monday, more than 70% of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients were occupied in Saitama, Shiga, Osaka, Hyogo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures.
Local media reported on Wednesday morning that the country reported 900 severe cases that day, a record for the 10th day in a row.
As the virus continues to spread in population centers across the country, the central government has been forced to expand its limited countermeasures as regional leaders call for more support.
When Suga first declared an emergency earlier this month, critics said the countermeasures, which largely target food service establishments, did not have the scope and duration to effectively contain the spread. virus.
“To move forward, efforts to combat the virus must be limited and targeted,” Suga said on January 4, four days before the state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area goes into effect. .
The day after the emergency began, three governors from the Kansai region formally asked the central government to include their prefectures as well. Four other prefectures – Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi and Fukuoka – quickly followed suit.
Media report that Kumamoto Prefecture also plans to issue a similar request.
While the ordinance is in effect, dining establishments in designated areas have been urged to close early and residents have been urged to avoid non-essential trips outside.
Cinemas, concert halls, department stores and amusement parks are also asked to close early.
When the first state of emergency was declared in early April last year, the ordinance covered Tokyo and six other prefectures: Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. Not only was it rolled out nationwide nine days later, but the declaration’s expiration date was extended from May 6 to May 30 after the virus did not subside. Eventually, the order was lifted on May 25.
At the time, the government called for numerous requests to close businesses at a wide range of local businesses and private facilities, including public universities and schools, sports facilities, concert halls, concert halls and community centers, as well as bars, nightclubs, internet cafes. and other nightlife destinations.
For the current emergency, however, business closure requests have been sent only to restaurants in an effort to keep the economy afloat. Whether the central government can afford to financially support businesses that comply with requests to suspend or reduce operations also remains a major concern.
On Wednesday, before Suga’s announcement of the enlargement of the emergency, leaders of opposition parties quickly expressed their dissent.
“The declaration is unlikely to be effective, as it gradually developed without any sense of urgency,” Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, said at a press conference today. -the.
Keiji Kokuta, chief of the Diet affairs of the Japanese Communist Party, said the central government’s countermeasures are “late.”
“The government did not justify the scope and duration of the emergency declaration, nor the reasons why catering establishments were specifically restricted,” Kokuta said.
Since the virus first appeared in Japan, critics have warned that public respect for voluntary countermeasures will decline. In other words, people will stop listening.
Evidence of that fear materialized when Nishimura tweeted on Monday that the audience crowd remained sizable over the three-day weekend in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.
Meanwhile, the Suga administration is working with the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito to introduce revisions to the new Special Influenza Measures Law, including the ability of prefecture governors to inflict fines to businesses that do not comply with closure requests.
Revisions are expected to be submitted at the start of the next diet session on Monday.
Kyodo information added
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Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, tochigi, Gifu, hyogo, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Aichi, state of emergency, covid-19, covid-19 in Japan