21 Apr 2021

Covid-19 surge: Japan weighs state of emergency

5:31 pm on 21 April 2021

Japan's government is considering a state of emergency for Tokyo and Osaka as new Covid-19 case numbers surge, broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday, a move that would enable prefectural authorities to impose curbs to try to stop infections spreading.

People wearing face masks are seen at Ginza district in Chuo Ward, Tokyo on April 20, 2021, amid a pandemic of the new coronavirus COVID-19.

People enjoy the sunshine in Tokyo as the government considers stricter measures to control a rise in Covid-19 infections. Photo: AFP

With thousands of new cases resulting from highly infectious strains of the virus, the government is expected to declare the state of emergency this week for the capital and Osaka prefecture, as well as the latter's neighbouring Hyogo prefecture, a number of domestic media outlets reported.

Japan has so far avoided the kind of explosive spread of the pandemic that has plagued many Western countries, with total cases so far at about 540,000 and a death toll of 9707. But the latest rise in infections has caused alarm, coming just three months before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics and amid a sluggish vaccination rollout.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is preparing to request an emergency period be declared from 29 April to 9 May, encompassing Japan's annual 'Golden Week' holiday period, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

Osaka, the epicentre of a fourth wave of the pandemic, requested a renewed state of emergency on Tuesday, looking to cancel or postpone all major events to restrict the movement of people. Quasi-emergency measures were already imposed in 10 of Japan's 47 prefectures, including the Tokyo and Osaka areas.

A photo shows restaurant and bar area at Dotonbori district in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture on April 19, 2021. The number of the new coronavirus COVID-19 patients has been increasing in Osaka Prefecture

The restaurant and bar area at Dotonbori district in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, which is at the epicentre of the latest outbreak. Photo: AFP

The government of Kyoto prefecture in western Japan is also preparing to request an emergency declaration, the Jiji news service reported. If enacted in all four regions, the emergency measures would cover close to a quarter of Japan's population of 126 million.

New declarations would mark the third full state of emergency in Japan since the epidemic began. The total economic loss from a renewed emergency in the three regions would be 1.156 trillion yen ($NZ14.9 billion), the Nomura Research Institute said in a report.

Concerns about expanded lockdown measures - and the slow pace of vaccinations - spread to investors, with Japanese shares trading sharply lower and the benchmark Nikkei index losing 1.7 percent.

On Wednesday Japan's top government spokesman, Katsunobu Kato, repeated the government's stance that it would consider any requests for a state-of-emergency declaration "swiftly", without elaborating on a time-frame.

Meanwhile, Pfizer will sign a contract this month to supply an additional 50 million doses of vaccine to Japan by September, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was in talks with Pfizer's chief executive last Saturday to secure more vaccine doses during a visit to the United States.

Along with existing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna, whose Covid-19 vaccine is being reviewed by domestic regulators, that would be enough for all of Japan's adult population.

Government spokesman Kato declined to comment on the number of additional Pfizer doses. The company did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters.

- Reuters

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