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Japan could declare coronavirus state of emergency soon

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to declare a state of emergency within days, after coronavirus cases in Tokyo jumped over the weekend to top 1,000 for the first time and raised worries of a more explosive surge, media reports said. 

Abe will announce the plan as soon as Monday, with the formal declaration for the Tokyo area coming as early as Tuesday, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, without attribution. Osaka is also likely to be included, while Hyogo, Saitama and Hokkaido prefectures are under consideration, according to Kyodo News and other media reports. Japan's biggest-ever stimulus package worth $550 billion may also be announced Tuesday.

Abe is expected to call a meeting of his advisory panel on the virus before announcing the decision. The state of emergency will be issued for specific areas, and a time period will be set.

Abe's government saw its approval rating slip to its lowest since October 2018 in a poll from broadcaster JNN, released Monday, with a majority of respondents faulting the way the government has managed the virus crisis. The poll conducted April 4 and 5 showed that about 80% of respondents said the declaration should be made.

While Abe's government has said the country is on the brink of an explosive surge, it has resisted calls to declare an emergency. The governors of Tokyo and Osaka have been pushing for the declaration as the recent spike in cases sparked concerns that Japan is headed for a crisis on the levels seen in the U.S. and several countries in Europe.

Declaring a state of emergency hands powers to local governments, including to urge residents to stay home. By contrast with some other countries, though, there is no legal power to enforce such requests due to civil liberties protections in Japanese law.

While Japan was one of the first countries outside of the original epicenter in neighboring China to confirm a coronavirus infection, it has fared better than most, with about 3,150 reported cases as of Monday - a jump from less than 500 just a month ago. That's the lowest tally of any Group of Seven country, though Japan might be finding fewer mild cases because it has conducted a relatively small number of tests.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo advised American citizens to return home, saying Japan's low testing rate makes it hard to accurately assess the prevalence of the virus. The Japan Medical Association warned last week that the jump in cases in the nation's most populous cities is putting more pressure on medical resources and that the government should declare a state of emergency.

Tokyo reported 143 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, its largest single day. It marked the second straight day the city's daily infection tally exceeded 100.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is already pressing residents to avoid unnecessary outings, and television showed many of the capital's main shopping areas almost deserted over the weekend. The Tokyo local government is set to begin leasing hotels this week to accommodate mild cases, to make room in its hospitals for the seriously ill.

Abe told parliament on Friday that the situation didn't yet warrant an emergency declaration, but said he wouldn't hesitate to take the step if the time comes.

 

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