Japan may declare COVID quasi-emergency in Tokyo

Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 17 2022 04:16 PM

The Japanese government is nearing a decision to declare a quasi-state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby prefectures amid a rapid increase in the number of novel coronavirus cases in the region, a government source said Monday.

The governors of Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa will meet online later in the day to discuss their response to the sixth wave of the pandemic in the county due largely to the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.

"We will work out details while listening to the current situations from the three nearby prefectures," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.

The four prefectures are expected to jointly request the central government to place them under a quasi-state of emergency, which would enable the governors to request that dining establishments shorten business hours and stop serving alcohol. Residents in the area would also be asked to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders.

On Sunday, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported that the occupancy rate of hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients was nearing 20 percent in the capital, a benchmark for seeking quasi-emergency measures. It has secured around 6,900 beds for such patients.

The central government suggested it will swiftly consider declaring the quasi-emergency if requested, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno saying the number of new cases "is surging at an unprecedented speed, not just in the metropolitan area but elsewhere too."

In a regular news conference, Matsuno said that health experts have noted the need to consider making a declaration based on wider economic regions rather than prefectures, and he suggested taking such a stance for Tokyo and Osaka and their vicinities.

Amid the resurgence of the virus across the country, a quasi-state of emergency has been already declared in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures, effective from Jan. 9 through the end of the month.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a ruling party meeting Monday that the government will "need to implement restrictions on people's movement" if the existing antivirus measures cannot curb the spread of the virus.

To counter the resurgence of COVID-19, the government is now planning to reopen a mass vaccination center in Tokyo on Jan. 31 using a government facility in Chiyoda Ward, the venue of a vaccination program last year, according to a government source.

Kishida announced last week centers operated by the Self-Defense Forces in Tokyo and Osaka would be reopened to speed up giving booster shots to people.

The Defense Ministry is set to decide on the schedule for administering third shots to those aged 18 or older as early as Tuesday.