| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Japan weighs state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka amid virus surge

Japan’s government is weighing a state of emergency for Tokyo and Osaka regions as new coronavirus case numbers surge, broadcaster NHK said on Wednesday, a move that would enable prefectural authorities to impose curbs to try to stop infections spreading.

With thousands of new cases resulting from highly infectious strains of the coronavirus, the cabinet is expected to declare the state of emergency this week for the capital and Osaka prefecture, as well as the latter’s neighboring Hyogo prefecture, according to domestic media outlets.

Japan has so far avoided the kind of explosive spread of the pandemic that has plagued multiple Western countries, with total cases so far at nearly 540,000 and a death toll of 9,707. But the latest spike in cases has sounded the alarm, coming just 3 months before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics and amid a sluggish vaccination roll-out.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is preparing to request an emergency period be declared from April 29 to May 9, encompassing Japan’s annual ‘Golden Week’ holiday period, the Mainichi newspaper said.

Osaka, the epicenter of a fourth wave of the pandemic, requested a renewed state of emergency on Tuesday, looking to cancel or defer all key events to restrict the movement of people. Quasi-emergency measures were already imposed in 10 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including the Osaka and Tokyo areas.

The Jiji news service reported that the government of Kyoto prefecture in western Japan is also preparing to request an emergency declaration, . If enacted in all 4 regions, the emergency measures would cover almost a quarter of Japan’s population of 126 million.

New declarations would mark the third full state of emergency in Japan since the epidemic started. The total economic loss from a renewed emergency in the 3 regions would be 1.156 trillion yen ($10.71 billion), the Nomura Research Institute said in a report.

Worries about expanded lockdown measures – and the slow pace of inoculations – spread to investors, with Japanese shares trading sharply lower and the benchmark Nikkei index losing 1.7%.

Hideyuki Ishiguro, senior strategist, Daiwa Securities said “global investors find little reason to buy Japanese stocks because Japan is lagging behind other countries in terms of obtaining the virus.”

On Wednesday, Japan’s top government spokesman, Katsunobu Kato, repeated the government’s standpoint that it would look into any requests for a state-of-emergency declaration “quickly”, without giving details on a time-frame.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc will sign a contract this month to supply an additional 50 million shots of vaccine to Japan by September, the Nikkei newspaper said. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was in talks with Pfizer’s CEO last Saturday to secure more vaccine jabs during a visit to the United States.

  • Reuters