Abe to declare Japan coronavirus emergency as soon as Tuesday

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to declare a state of emergency as soon as Tuesday, Nikkei has learned, as new coronavirus cases in the capital increase at a record pace.

The government will hold an unofficial gathering of a panel of experts on Monday, and Abe will speak in the evening at a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force. The ruling parties will meet later to approve a stimulus package, which is set to be rubber-stamped at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Tokyo and its surrounding areas as well as Osaka are expected to be affected by the declaration. The capital recorded 143 new infections on Sunday, a daily record that lifted the city’s total to more than 1,000. Over 3,500 cases have been recorded nationally, with 73 deaths.

Based on a recently amended law, the declaration will give local authorities the legal power to request the public to stay home, and ask schools and businesses to close. The public will be asked to refrain from going outside except for grocery shopping and limited other tasks.

The declaration will lack the legal authority for Japan to impose the kind of lockdowns seen in other countries, but governments will be allowed to call for closures of schools, malls and movie theaters, as well as for the cancellations of events where large groups of people gather.

The constitution, which bows to civil liberties, does not permit the government to demand that individuals stay home.

If businesses do not cooperate without a legitimate reason, authorities can give out “instructions,” which have a stronger connotation than requests. But no penalties can be imposed on those who refuse to go along.

The cabinet also is expected to approve a stimulus package — expected to be worth 60 trillion yen ($550 billion) and Japan’s largest ever — on Tuesday.

Also on Monday, a new economic team was set up within Japan’s National Security Agency. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: “I hope the team will give its best in preventing the spread of the virus by eliminating vertical divisions between government agencies and not being bound to precedents in tackling key issues such as flexible border measures and the movement of people.”

Japan’s equity benchmark Nikkei Stock Average surged 4.24% on Monday, partly because investors hope the declaration will lead to a faster recovery from the coronavirus. The market was also boosted by a rise in U.S. futures after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that the number of virus-related deaths in the city had dropped for the first time.

Abe has been criticized for not having already declared an emergency — a hesitance thought by many to stem from a strong desire to pull off the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as scheduled. The International Olympic Committee decided in late March to postpone the games to 2021 after consulting with the prime minister and others. A day later, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told residents that the virus has put the capital in a grave situation.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economic and fiscal policy minister, told a parliamentary committee on Monday that “a lockdown does not equal a closed city. I plan on carefully explaining what will be different and what will remain the same after the declaration.”

Koike told reporters on Monday: “Tokyo had many new coronavirus cases yesterday. We have begun preparation, assuming that the city will be included in the declaration. I plan on communicating with the public on what may happen once the declaration is made.”

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