A security guard wearing a protective face mask is reflected on the surface of an object, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at an observation deck in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Emergency order set to be extended and lawmakers add teeth to measures

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to extend a state of emergency that has been imposed on Tokyo and other areas of the country after lawmakers on Monday passed legislation adding teeth to orders against the coronavirus.

In the parliamentary session on Monday, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister in charge of the coronavirus response, said the government will convene a panel of experts in public health and other fields to advise it in relation to the potential extension of the emergency order.

The state of emergency, which Suga declared in January for 11 prefectures including densely populated Tokyo and Osaka, is due to end on Sunday.

According to media, the extension-if the government proceeds with it-will last for another month and the decision could be made as early as Tuesday when Suga holds a News conference to introduce further measures to rein in the pandemic.

Places like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, where infections have eased from their peaks but remain high, are likely to remain under the state of emergency. Okinawa, which is struggling to contain outbreaks on remote islands, may be added to the list, media said.

On Monday, Japan reported 1,792 new cases, including 393 from Tokyo. It is the capital’s first reading below 500 since Dec 28 and well below its daily record of 2,447 on Jan 7.

The Japanese government had earlier said the emergency can end when the virus situation eases to Stage Three on a four-stage scale that draws on six data points.

For Tokyo, that would mean daily infections falling below 500 and staying there.

“Looking at the situation from region to region, the number of infections is still high and the medical system continues to be strained,” said Shigeru Omi, president of the Japan Community Health Care Organization.

To contain the spread of COVID-19, Suga has already launched a raft of measures yet the virus has still killed more than 5,700 and infected nearly 400,000 in Japan.

Public dissatisfaction

In the face of the government’s insistence that the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead on July 23, Suga is facing increasing pressure and public dissatisfaction over his handling of the pandemic.

Under the current measures, the government has urged people to stay at home as much as possible, asked bars and restaurants to close early and encouraged companies to adopt remote working.

But no penalties in Japan are levied against those not complying. Many bars and restaurants have ignored the requests.

In response, the House of Representatives, the lower house in the parliament, on Monday passed a bill to revise the country’s infectious disease law. The changes are aimed, in part, at boosting compliance with the pandemic-control measures under a toughened government approach.

The bill will move on to the House of Councilors, the upper chamber, and is expected to be enacted on Wednesday following its passage.

Globally, there were more than 103 million confirmed cases worldwide with around 22.3 million deaths by Monday, Johns Hopkins University said.

In South Korea, 11 more US soldiers and two civilian workers tested positive for COVID-19, the US Forces Korea, or USFK, said on Monday.

The US military said in a statement that the 13 USFK-affiliated individuals were confirmed with the virus after arriving in South Korea between Jan 15 and 29.

Aside from Japan, several other countries further tightened restrictions to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In Israel, the country’s cabinet has voted to extend a nationwide lockdown for at least five more days.

Agencies and xinhua contributed to this story.