Japan mulls 1-month extension to state of emergency over coronavirus

30, Apr. 2020

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TOKYO, Kyodo - The Japanese government is considering extending the current nationwide state of emergency through May 6 by around one month in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, government sources said Thursday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to seek opinions possibly on Friday from a panel of experts tasked with assessing the spread of coronavirus infections across the nation, before he makes a judgement on the extension, the sources said.

Abe first declared a monthlong state of emergency until May 6 for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures on April 7 amid a sharp rise in infections in such urban areas. He expanded it on April 16 to all 47 prefectures ahead of the Golden Week holidays from late April when many Japanese people usually return to their hometowns or travel for vacations or day trips.

Under the state of emergency, people have been asked by local authorities to refrain from unnecessary outings and some businesses have been requested to shut. A senior administration official indicated that the emergency measure will be extended until the end of May or around June 6.

There is a view within the government that the state of emergency should remain in place for the entire nation as any partial lifting would prompt a flow of people in certain areas and raise the risk of transmission.

Prefectural governors are calling for an extension to the state of emergency beyond the holiday season that ends on May 6.

Abe was initially seen as reluctant to declare an emergency despite the authority he had obtained through a legal change in March, fearing the economy would take a severe hit. But the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise in the country, putting a strain on the health care system.

The premier said Thursday he will not wait until the last minute to determine whether to extend the state of emergency.

"Local governments need to make preparations so I will make a decision sometime before (the expiration date of May 6)," Abe told a session of the upper house budget committee.

Japan has so far confirmed some 14,800 COVID-19 cases, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo in February, with the death toll standing at around 450. (Kyodo)