TOKYO – Japan will likely on Tuesday extend its monthlong state of emergency over COVID-19 that came into effect early last month for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures before being expanded to cover 11 prefectures where the virus’ outbreaks had been rampant, government sources said Monday.
The state of emergency, first declared by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in January for the Greater Tokyo Area as well as some other major urban areas that are densely populated including Osaka, was scheduled to end on Feb. 7.
Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and nearby Saitama prefectures will likely see the emergency period extended, as while infections have dipped of late the virus’ transmission rate remains relatively high, particularly among the elderly, with health care facilities becoming increasingly strained, experts have said.
Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures, in western Japan, will likely be included in the extension, while Fukuoka and Okinawa prefectures may be added to the list amid rising COVID-19 cases there, informed sources said Monday.
Tochigi Prefecture, officials said meanwhile, may be removed from the emergency list, as COVID-19 cases have eased in the area that is also located in the Kanto region, not far from Tokyo.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan’s coronavirus response, said the government will take advice from its panel of experts comprised of senior health specialists and authorities from other fields such as lawyers to inform its decision on the likely extension.
“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, the head of the government’s subcommittee on the pandemic said.
Since the state of emergency was declared, people have been more ardently requested to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors and to work from home.
Bars and restaurants in particular have also been asked to shorten their operating hours and close their doors by 8:00 p.m.
Also under the state of emergency, large venues have been asked to cap their audiences.
With Japan having no way to actually enforce the rules, revisions to existing laws were drawn up to introduce fines for those not adhering to the government’s requests. The original revisions included heavier fines and prison sentences for those thwarting hospitalization requests, but these were deemed too harsh and were subsequently scrapped.
Japan’s ruling and main opposition parties have since agreed that COVID-19 patients who refuse hospitalization could face fines of up to 500,000 yen (4,770 U.S. dollars), while those who do not comply with health officials’ surveys could be fined up to 300,000 yen.
Previous plans were to also introduce fines of up to 500,000 yen for businesses that refuse to shorten their opening hours and close earlier under a state of emergency, and up to 300,000 yen for businesses not under a state of emergency but where anti-virus requests have been made by local prefectures.
The fines will now be lowered to 300,000 yen and 200,000 yen respectively.
Government officials said the changes to the infectious disease law and the coronavirus special measures law will be passed by the lower house on Monday, before being enacted into law on Wednesday.