Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other hard-hit Japanese prefectures to fortify the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. But this is no European or Wuhan-style lockdown. A look at what Japan’s state of emergency entails:
A. Abe was facing heavy pressure to declare a state of emergency after the number of new cases in Tokyo began doubling every several days in late March. The city of 14 million had 1,339 cases as of Wednesday, up from about 600 a week earlier. Japan focused on dealing with clusters of infections and selective testing for the virus, a strategy that has failed to curb its spread. Experts found that one-third of Tokyo’s recent cases were linked to hostess clubs and other night entertainment districts where cluster tracing is difficult. Meanwhile, compliance with calls for working remotely and other social distancing has been weak.
A. The state of emergency announced Tuesday applies to only Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, Osaka, and Hyogo in the west and Fukuoka in the south. That is only seven of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Residents are requested to avoid nonessential trips within and outside the designated areas, but there are no restrictions on travel. Some Tokyo residents drew criticism for rushing to escape from Tokyo to the countryside.
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A. No, Abe and officials say Japan cannot legally enforce hard lockdowns. Public transportation is operating as normal. Most state of emergency measures are requests and instructions. Violators cannot be punished unless they fail to comply with orders related to storage or shipment of emergency relief goods and medical supplies.
A. Japan’s history of repression under fascist governments before and during World War II has left the public wary of government overreach. The country’s postwar constitution lays out strict protections for civil liberties. Abe’s government was reluctant to risk severe economic repercussions from more severe measures.
A. The state of emergency allows prefectural leaders to ask residents to stay home. They can also request closures of schools, some child and senior care or community centres, and stores and businesses that are considered nonessential. They can advise organizers to cancel or postpone events. The governors can also request use of private property to build hospitals and other medical facilities.