Japan PM Abe calls for event cancellations for additional 10 days over virus

11, Mar. 2020

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TOKYO, Kyodo - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday requested that big sports and cultural events in Japan be canceled or postponed for 10 more days as the government needs more time to gauge the effectiveness of its measures to contain the new coronavirus.

"We are at an extremely important time to prevent any rapid spread of domestic infections," Abe said at a meeting of a government task force on the new coronavirus response. "For about 10 days until the expert panel makes its fresh assessment, I'd like to ask for cooperation (from organizers)."

The request comes a day after a government panel of medical experts said Japan has so far stemmed a surge in domestic infections, but it is too early to relax vigilance.

Abe made his initial request on Feb. 26, citing the panel's view "a week or two" will be important to curb domestic infections. He asked organizers to cancel, postpone, or scale down big sports and entertainment events amid fears of group transmission.

Although the request was not legally binding, it still led to a spate of cancellations and postponements, raising concerns that slowing activity will hurt the Japanese economy already on the edge of a recession.

The start of Japan's professional baseball season that was initially due to begin on March 20 has been delayed, and the professional soccer J-League is suspending matches until at least April 3. The 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament has been held without spectators.

Popular spots such as Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest broadcasting tower, have also been temporarily closed.

The government is seeking passage by Friday of a bill that would enable Abe to declare a state of emergency if necessary. If a declaration is made, prefectural governors can instruct event organizers to cancel or put off events.

The number of domestic infections in Japan has topped 500, taking the total to over 1,200 with about 700 from the Diamond Princess that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo in February.

The government has said there are small groups of infections, or clusters, in the country, and preventing their expansion is important.

In the government task force meeting, Abe said Japan will toughen its border control steps.

Starting Wednesday, Japan will refuse entry to people who have been in five virus-hit provinces in Italy, including Lombardy, which encompasses Milan, and eight provinces in Iran within 14 days of arrival in Japan. The ban also covers San Marino. (Kyodo)