Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to declare a state of emergency on Thursday for Tokyo and adjacent areas, seeking to stem coronavirus infections that are hitting record highs.
The declaration will cover the capital and the surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, and is likely to be imposed from Friday until February 7, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said. It will be revoked when infections fall below levels laid out by the government, he added.
Suga is set to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. to discuss the matter.
Japan’s emergency doesn’t imply the kind of lockdowns seen in some parts of Europe, and the central government is seeking far less stringent measures than under its previous emergency last year. Residents will be asked to avoid going out only after 8 p.m. and bars and restaurants will be instructed to close at that time.
Authorities can’t enforce compliance for now, although Suga is seeking to amend the law to add penalties for those who don’t abide by government measures and formalise incentives for businesses that do.
Bloomberg Economics’ Yuki Masujima sees the emergency declaration shaving up to 0.7 per cent off the economy for each month it lasts. Tokyo and neighbouring areas account for about one-third of the country’s gross domestic product.
Ballooning infections have been a blow for Suga, who had emphasised keeping the economy going despite the pandemic, including by offering domestic travel incentives to bolster the tourism industry. His public support has slumped, with polls showing most voters favour tougher pandemic measures.
The decision will be formally announced after a day of consultations with advisers and reports to parliamentary committees. It would be the second in Japan after a declaration that began in April, but is not expected to cause as much pain as the first, when the virus slammed the brakes on the economy and sent it into its worst downturn on record.
Suga said on Monday he wanted the emergency measures to be focused and limited, by contrast with the broader steps taken last time. He said the aim would be to reduce spreads stemming from bars and restaurants, which he cited as among the main sites for infection.
Suga’s signature “Go To” travel campaign, which had already been suspended through January 11, is unlikely to be revived while the state of emergency is in place. The government will press for a return to remote work, aiming to cut the number of commuters in the region by 70 per cent, Nishimura said. Schools, however, will not be asked to close and university entrance exams will go ahead as scheduled.