Japan puts three areas under virus semi-emergency

TOKYO (AP) — Japan designated Osaka and two other areas for new virus control steps yesterday as infections in those areas rise less than four months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka, neighbouring Hyogo and Miyagi in the north have had sharp increases in daily cases since early March, soon after Japan scaled down its partial and non-binding state of emergency that began in January.

Japan lifted the state of emergency in the Tokyo area on March 21, fully ending the measures aimed at slowing the coronavirus and relieving pressure on medical systems treating COVID-19 patients.

Experts raised concerns about Osaka’s rapid spike and the burden on its medical systems.

An international figure skating championship is scheduled in April 15-18 in Osaka city, where skaters from five countries are to participate. The Olympic torch relay is also scheduled to pass through Osaka city in two weeks.

People wear face masks as they make their way in Osaka, western Japan. PHOTO: AP

“Personally, I think the Olympic torch relay in Osaka City should be cancelled,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said, noting that virus prevention steps such as social distancing and avoiding non-essential outings should be ensured rather than hosting the event.

Torch relay organisers already asked people to keep social distance, wear masks and refrain from cheering when runners pass. They have said they will reroute or cancel legs of the relay if needed.

Economy Revitalisation Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the three prefectures would be designated for semi-emergency status under a new rampancy prevention law beginning on Monday for one month.

The law enacted in February is designed to target specific municipalities as a pre-emergency measure and allows prefectural leaders to request or order business owners to shorten operating hours and take other steps. It allows compensation for those who comply and fines for violators.

Japan has so far managed the pandemic much better than the United States and Europe without imposing a binding lockdown. But Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has been struggling to control the spread of the virus while minimising damage to the economy.

Cases in Tokyo have been on the rise. The capital city yesterdayreported 475 new cases. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike warned that a situation like in Osaka “can happen here at any time”.