Japan evaluates state of emergency for the Tokyo and Osaka regions amid rising virus in the media

An empty street near the usually crowded Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, a popular tourist attraction, is depicted amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Japan on July 21, 2020. REUTERS / Leika Kihara

The government of Japan is considering a state of emergency for Tokyo and Osaka as the number of new COVID-19 cases increases, broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday, a move that would allow city officials to impose restrictions to try to prevent the spread infections.

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

Japan has so far avoided the type of explosive spread of the pandemic that plagues many Western countries, with a total number of cases so far at around 540,000 and a death toll of 9,707. But the latest spike in infections has raised alarm, occurring just three months before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics and amid a slow implementation of vaccination.

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

Osaka, the epicenter of a fourth wave of the pandemic, requested a new state of emergency on Tuesday, seeking to cancel or postpone all major events to restrict the movement of people. Quasi-emergency measures have already been imposed in 10 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including the Tokyo and Osaka areas. Read More

The Kyoto prefectural government in western Japan is also preparing to request an emergency declaration, reported the Jiji news service. If implemented in all four regions, emergency measures would cover about a quarter of the Japanese population of 126 million.

New statements would mark Japan’s third total state of emergency since the epidemic began. The total economic loss from a renewed emergency in the three regions would be 1.156 trillion yen ($ 10.71 billion), the Nomura Research Institute said in a report.

Concerns about expanding blocking measures – and the slow pace of vaccinations – have spread to investors, with Japanese stocks trading sharply and the Nikkei benchmark losing 1.7%.

“Global investors find little reason to buy Japanese stocks because Japan is lagging behind in terms of getting the virus,” said Hideyuki Ishiguro, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

On Wednesday, the Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Katsunobu Kato, repeated the government’s position that it would consider any requests for a declaration of state of emergency “quickly” without elaborating a deadline.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) will sign a contract this month to supply 50 million additional doses of the vaccine to Japan by September, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was in talks with the CEO of Pfizer last Saturday to secure more doses of the vaccine during a visit to the United States. Read More

Along with existing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna Inc (MRNA.O), whose COVID-19 vaccine is being reviewed by domestic regulators, this would be sufficient for the entire adult population of Japan.

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

($ 1 = 107,9500 yen)

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