Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is considering a new state of emergency declaration for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, government and ruling party sources said Monday.
Media reports said the declaration could come as early as this week.
The news comes two days after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and her counterparts from Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures requested that the central government issue an emergency declaration amid the rapid spread of coronavirus infections.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is working with the three neighboring prefectures to jointly request restaurants to close by 8 p.m. from later this week to help curb the spread of infections, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.
The four prefectures will ask dining and drinking establishments to further cut their operating hours from the 10 p.m. closing time currently requested as the virus’s resurgence strains the medical system, the sources added.
Suga discussed with Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, health minister Norihisa Tamura, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba on Sunday afternoon how the government should respond to the request from the governors.
With the new coronavirus spreading relentlessly in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the governors, in a meeting with Nishimura on Saturday, requested the central government to once again declare a state of emergency based on the country’s special measures law for tackling the pandemic. The move will give prefectural authorities the power to take stronger measures to curb the viral outbreak.
Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s coronavirus responses, had indicated a plan to carefully consider the request.
Since the beginning of a third wave of infections in the country, the government has been cautious about declaring a state of emergency, as the step would stop social and economic activities and have an impact on economic recovery.
In an example of the government’s cautious stance, Suga stressed during a Dec. 25 news conference that people can change their behavior without an emergency declaration.
However, the number of new infection cases soared toward the New Year’s holiday period, with the nationwide daily count topping 4,500 on Thursday, a record high.
Suga’s apparent rethink has come as his support rate continues to dwindle at a startling pace in his first 100 days in office, with his Cabinet’s approval rating plummeting by 20 points in one poll, largely reflecting disappointment with his coronavirus response. Some critics say the Suga government’s virus response has heavily prioritized the economy rather than public health.
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