Japan is to set up a COVID-19 task force, the government said yesterday, as it warned of a high risk of a wide spread of the virus, but the economy minister said the government was not immediately thinking of declaring a state of emergency.
Japan had reported 1,313 domestic cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday morning, separate from 712 cases on a cruise ship that was moored near Tokyo last month, broadcaster NHK reported.
There have been 45 domestic deaths and 10 from the cruise ship.
“I told [Japanese] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe there is a high risk of coronavirus spreading widely,” Japanese Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato told reporters after a meeting Abe and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura.
Nishimura said that Abe told him to “proceed swiftly with setting up the government task force” based on Kato’s report, but that the government was not immediately considering declaring a state of emergency.
Under a law amended this month to cover the coronavirus pandemic, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread threatens serious economic damage.
A state of emergency would allow governors in hard-hit regions to take steps such as asking people to stay at home, closing schools and other public facilities, and canceling large events.
Japanese shares tumbled yesterday following three days of big gains after the rise in domestic cases stoked worries of tougher domestic restrictions to implement social distancing.
Hitachi Ltd instructed 50,000 employees at its group companies in Tokyo to work from home and avoid unnecessary outings.
The decision to set up the task force — a necessary step to declaring an emergency — followed a sharp jump in cases in Tokyo, making the capital the epicenter of Japan’s outbreak.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday warned of the risk of an explosive rise in infections in the capital and asked residents to avoid non-essential outings through April 12, especially over the weekend.
“The government and local authorities will cooperate based on the awareness that this is a very critical time to prevent the spread of the virus,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosihide Suga told a news conference.
Koike asked the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa to ask their residents to refrain from non-urgent, non-essential travel to Tokyo, the Nikkei reported.
Abe has already told schools to close — although many are now preparing to reopen — and asked organizers to refrain from large events, but his instructions had no formal legal basis.
Even if a state of emergency is declared, legal experts have noted there are no penalties for ignoring most instructions, but the declaration would put added pressure on people and businesses to obey.
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