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In a bid to tackle the increasingly rapid spread of coronavirus, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe is anticipated to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other regions. In comparison to countries such as the U.S., Italy, and Spain, Japan has a relatively small number of outbreaks.
Initially, it seemed as though Abe was reluctant to implement tougher measures. According to the BBC, Japan has 85 confirmed deaths. Whilst in Tokyo, there are now more than 1,000 confirmed cases. The Japanese government has had to respond to criticism that it has not been doing enough to tackle the virus. According to reports from The Guardian, on the evening of Monday, 6 April Abe stated: “We hope to declare a state of emergency as early as tomorrow after listening to the opinions of the advisory panel”. The measure is estimated to be in place for about a month. People will be urged to stay at home, except for essential travel.
As recently as last week, Yoshihide Suga, the government’s spokesman dismissed claims that a state of emergency was to be declared. This switch may not only be due to a surge in confirmed cases, but also as a result of criticism from several entities including the Japan Medical Association and Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo.
The BBC has reported that declaring a state of emergency will allow the governors of Japan’s 48 prefectures to ask people to stay at home and businesses to close. However, they will not have the legal authority to impose the strict lockdowns seen in other countries. Nor will they be able to fine those who ignore the instructions to stay at home. These measures appear relaxed when compared to other countries. Last week, Abe told MPs “If you ask me if we can enforce a lockdown like France, the answer is no”.
Whilst a less stringent approach may not be fully effective, Koike’s appeal for a “soft lockdown” ahead of last weekend seemed to have made some impact. According to the East Japan Railway Co., 70%-80% fewer people used the Tokyo metro compared to the same weekend last year. This shows that a large number of Japanese citizens are willing to listen to government advice on safety measures. However, there are still significant numbers of people who are not taking social distancing protocols seriously. Without the implementation of tougher measures such as fines, officials are instead hoping that people will submit to peer pressure and follow instructions.
With the current greatest concern in Japan being Tokyo, Abe’s declaration is anticipated to initially target Tokyo’s metropolitan area, a densely populated city of roughly 36 million. Many have said that these measures are “too little too late”. It is claimed that Abe, together with other officials, have only taken measures to curb the outbreak once it became an inevitability that the Tokyo Olympic Games would not be able to go ahead this year. This suggests that the benefits of continuing with the Olympic Games, such as economic growth and image promotion, may have been more of a priority than the health of Japan’s citizens. It was recently announced that The Olympic Games will now begin on 23, July 2021.
Both Germany and the U.S. have criticized Japan’s failure to enforce stricter social distancing measures, and with the country’s impending declaration, the message is clear now more than ever, that we must all work together to stop the spread of the virus.