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COVID-19: Japan considering state of emergency in Tokyo, vicinity

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Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Monday that his government is considering declaring a state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures following a continuing rise in coronavirus cases during the New Year holidays.

Speaking at a New Year press conference, Suga said that his government seeks to start vaccinations against COVID-19 for frontline healthcare workers earlier than its previous timeline of mid-March.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the leaders of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures on Saturday had urged the government to declare a state of emergency days after the capital reported more than 1,300 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time.

A state of emergency was previously declared in Tokyo and six other prefectures in early April 2020 during Japan’s first wave of infections, and expanded nationwide later that month. The emergency was lifted in phases during the following month as coronavirus cases subsided.

Legislation was enacted in March last year giving the government the authority to declare a state of emergency, which provides a legal basis for governors to ask residents in their prefectures to stay at home.

The law enables stronger steps to deal with outbreaks, including the requisition of medical supplies and food as well as expropriation of private land for emergency health facilities.

Kyodo news agency reported that Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama are arranging to jointly request restaurants to close by 8 p.m. from later this week to help curb the spread of coronavirus infections. The central government had urged the four local governments to take such a step on Saturday.

As per Japanese law, requests to curb business operations must be made by local rather than central authorities.

The Tokyo government began requesting restaurants, bars and karaoke venues serving alcohol to close by 10 p.m. in late November, offering them compensation, though the measure has so far been ineffective in lowering the number of virus infections.

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