Japan expands state of emergency over coronavirus as infections climb

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Hind Al Soulia – Riyadh – The country reported 4,527 new cases and 51 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the national total to almost 300,000, with a death toll of 4,158. More than 61,500 patients are in hospitals across the country, which have been struggling to deal with a spike in cases brought on in part by freezing winter temperatures.

Tokyo, previously among the worst-hit areas, reported 970 new cases Tuesday, the first time the Japanese capital’s daily tally has dropped below 1,000 in over a week. The total number of confirmed cases in Tokyo now stands at 77,133.

A state of emergency was previously declared for Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa last week, to be in place until Feb. 7.

The new announcement expands the order to Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi and Fukuoka, covering much of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Eleven prefectures in total are now under emergency measures.

The state of emergency orders companies to encourage their staff to work from home and reduce office populations by 70%. Residents of the affected areas are also urged to avoid non-essential outings and restaurants have to stop serving alcohol by 7 p.m. and close by 8 p.m.

Sports and entertainment events in Japan are also requested to limit the number of attendees.

Suga asked for the public’s cooperation after announcing the expanded measures Wednesday.

“I hope people to understand that this is an indispensable measure to improve this difficult situation. We will do everything we need to do. I apologize for the inconvenience caused your life with many restrictions, but we must overcome this,” he said at a news conference.

“I would like to ask for the cooperation of the people.”

However, unlike a number of other countries that have introduced lockdowns and social distancing measures, Japan lacks much in the way of legal powers to force compliance with the government’s orders. The country is also grappling with coronavirus fatigue, having been among the earliest hit by the pandemic, and a confusing mixture of messages in recent months.

“Japan’s response is too slow and confusing, which reflects a lack of leadership and strategy. On one hand, they encouraged domestic travel and eating out, on the other they just asked people to take caution,” Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, said earlier this month.

The government is basically asking people voluntarily to behave properly, but does not do more than that.”

Speaking after the Tokyo emergency order, Satoshi Kamayachi, a physician and member of the government’s expert advisory board, told CNN affiliate TV Asahi that it was “not enough period to curb the infection surge, we need to reduce more the human contact.”

Japanese officials are believed to be wary of introducing a full lockdown or other more stringent emergency measures for fear of harming the economy. The country is also once again facing difficult decisions around the Olympics, which were due to take place last summer but were eventually postponed as the pandemic spread around the world. — Courtesy CNN

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