Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Japan’s second state of emergency should be extended by around two weeks for the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, the last region still under the order, which was set to expire Sunday.
The governors of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures were planning to submit a joint request to the central government Wednesday evening to voice their concerns that new cases are not declining fast enough to safely lift the state of emergency Sunday, despite a steady decline since Japan’s third and largest wave peaked in early January.
“I believe a two-week extension is necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people,” Suga told reporters Wednesday evening, adding that he will make a decision after consulting with virus experts and the four governors.
As was the case before the country’s first state of emergency was ended in May last year, there is a major concern that lifting the order abruptly or prematurely will expose the nation to the risk of a rebound in new cases.
On the other hand, an extended state of emergency would worsen the financial impact shouldered by local businesses, especially the restaurants that have been asked to close by 8 p.m. in parts of the country since the declaration was made in early January.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said during a meeting at the metropolitan government’s offices on Tuesday that the pace of decline in new cases has tapered, but perhaps by not enough to fully reopen the city.
Koike said in February that the rolling weekly average of new cases needs to dip below 70% of the previous week’s figure for the order to be safely lifted.
“That number is closer to 80% or 90%,” Koike said Tuesday. “There may not be enough time” for the virus to subside enough before the state of emergency is due to be lifted Sunday, she said.
On Wednesday, the capital reported 316 new cases of COVID-19. On Monday, the city logged 121 new cases, the lowest daily count since early November, whereas Chiba Prefecture reported 127 new cases that day, a rare instance in which the capital’s figure was surpassed by a neighboring prefecture.
“We need to prepare for the state of emergency to be extended,” Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita said Monday.
Suga had previously expressed caution about lifting the declaration in the Tokyo area, explaining during a session of the Lower House Budget Committee on Tuesday that he will “monitor the situation up until the last moment.”
On Jan. 7, Suga declared a state of emergency until Feb. 7 for the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, which consists of the capital and three adjacent prefectures: Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.
The order was expanded to 11 prefectures less than a week later, then extended until March 7 in all but Tochigi Prefecture.
On Monday, the order was lifted early in six prefectures, making the capital region the final, most heavily populated part of the country waiting to reopen.
While the country’s first state of emergency, which was declared in April last year, targeted voluntary closure requests at various businesses, the second emergency has taken aim at restaurants and bars.
Critics have said that cracking down on bars and restaurants won’t adequately contain the virus, since infections that occurred within homes, apartments and other residences have consistently accounted for the largest portion of new cases.
In February, revisions to the country’s virus laws made it possible for municipal governors to impose monetary fines on local businesses that refuse to comply with business closure requests. Later that month, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government issued closure requests to 34 noncompliant businesses for the first time based on the revised legislation, enabling authorities to impose fines should they not comply.
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