Japan extends emergency nationwide to stem spread of Covid-19
TOKYO : Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday expanded a state of emergency to cover the whole country in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The declaration allows regional governors to urge people to stay indoors, but with no punitive measures or legal force, the measure is far weaker than strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.
Mr Abe had already declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions, including Tokyo, where a recent spike in cases has prompted warnings that emergency medical facilities could collapse.
"Areas where a state of emergency should be carried out will be expanded from the seven prefectures to all prefectures," Mr Abe told a special meeting of medical experts called to discuss the disease.
He said the state of emergency would remain in force until May 6.
Since the initial emergency came into effect on April 8, several regional governors have called for the measures to be expanded to cover their areas - warning of a growing number of infections and overwhelmed medical facilities.
Some have declared their own local emergencies, even though they carry no legal force.
Japan has so far seen a relatively small outbreak, with around 8,500 infections and 136 deaths so far.
In Tokyo, the governor has called on people to work from home, and significant drops have been seen in the number of people commuting each day on the city's notoriously crowded transport system.
But while some central areas have been uncharacteristically deserted, local neighbourhoods have remained relatively bustling, raising concerns about whether the measures will be sufficient.
Under the current supplementary budget plan, the government had set aside funds for cash payouts of 300,000 yen (S$3,980), but only for households whose income is judged to have been hit by the coronavirus.
But the government will change the plan and instead deliver 100,000 yen to every citizen, an official with direct knowledge of the matter said.
The change would be a nod to growing calls from ruling and opposition lawmakers for Mr Abe to take bolder steps to help people weather the economic impact.
The International Monetary Fund, which expects Japan's economy to contract 5.2 per cent this year, urged the government to boost fiscal spending and focus on easing the hit to growth. - AFP, REUTERS