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January 8, 2021

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Tokyo, 3 regions put under state of emergency

Japan declared a limited state of emergency in the capital Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures yesterday to stem the spread of the coronavirus, resisting calls from medics for wider curbs due to the economic damage they would cause.

The government said the one-month emergency would run from today to February 7 in Tokyo and Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, covering about 30 percent of the country’s population.

Restrictions would center on combating transmission in bars and restaurants, which the government says are main risk areas.

The curbs are narrower in scope than those imposed in April under an emergency that ran to late May. At that time, the curbs were nationwide and schools and non-essential businesses were mostly shuttered.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government is seeking to limit damage to the world’s third-biggest economy while striving to defeat the coronavirus.

“The global pandemic has been a tougher one than we expected, but I’m hopeful we can overcome this,” Suga told a televised news conference.

“For this to happen, I must ask citizens to endure life with some restrictions.”

Some medical experts have said they fear the government’s plan for limited restrictions might not be enough.

“We may need to think about a state of emergency nationwide,” Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said on Wednesday.

Suga said damage to the economy was inevitable but he would aim to protect jobs and businesses with a 70-trillion yen (US$670 billion) stimulus package being rolled out.

Japan, though less seriously hit by the pandemic than many other countries, has recorded daily infections at more than 7,000 for the first time as of yesterday.

Tokyo in particular has been a constant worry with its tally of positive results jumping to 2,447 yesterday, from a record of 1,591 the previous day.

In all, Japan has seen 267,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.

Authorities aim to start a vaccination campaign by the end of February.

The emergency measures include asking restaurants and bars to close by 8pm, and residents to refrain from non-urgent outings, more work from home and limiting crowds at sports and other big events to 5,000 people.

The four prefectures are home to about 150,000 restaurants and bars. Suga has said limiting their hours had helped bring cases down in regions such as Osaka and Hokkaido.

In a worrying sign, Osaka on Wednesday reported a record 560 new cases while Hokkaido saw cases exceed 100 for the first time in a week.

The prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto were considering requesting a state of emergency, media reported.

According to simulations by Kyoto University scientist Hiroshi Nishiura, infections in Tokyo could reach 3,500 a day by February and hit 7,000 by March without new measures to curb the virus. Emergency measures could take at least two months to bring infections to manageable levels, he said.

In the meantime, eating and drinking establishments are suffering.

Tokyo-based Teikoku Databank said this week bankruptcies in the sector hit a high of 780 in 2020, up from the previous record of 732.

Analysts say the new state of emergency would probably trigger an economic contraction in the first quarter.


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