TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday the government would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area as coronavirus cases climb and strain the country’s medical system.
Japan saw a record 4,520 new cases on Dec. 31 in a fresh wave of infections, prompting the capital, Tokyo, and three neighbouring prefectures to seek an emergency declaration from the national government. The region accounted for more than half of the nationwide cases on Sunday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted those calls, mindful of the potential damage to the economy.
As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlours in the Tokyo area are being asked to close at 8 p.m. - earlier than the previous 10 p.m. - while businesses that serve alcohol should close at 7 p.m.
“Even during the three days of the New Year’s holiday, cases didn’t go down in the greater Tokyo area,” Suga said at a news conference to mark the start of 2021. “We felt that a stronger message was needed.”
He noted that shortening business hours for restaurants had helped stem the rise of infections in some regions, including Osaka and Hokkaido.
If declared, it would be the second time parts of Japan have entered a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic. The first lasted for more than a month last spring, when schools and non-essential businesses were asked to close.
Japan has relied on voluntary closures and travel restrictions rather than the sort of rigid lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world.
Although the case numbers in Japan pale in comparison to many parts of Europe and the Americas, Suga has the challenge of hosting the Olympics in Tokyo this summer after the pandemic caused the Games’ first-ever delay in 2020.
Japan last month said it would temporarily ban non-resident foreign nationals from entering the country after the detection of the new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus.