Tokyo has been put in a Covid-19 state of emergency less than 200 days before the Olympics
The host city has been put under the Japanese government’s most severe restrictions for the first time since last April after reporting a new daily record of 2,447
Deaths nationwide have passed 3,700 – doubling in less than two months.
Under the new rules, residents in Tokyo and three surrounding areas have been urged to avoid non-essential outings, restaurants and bars have been asked to close at 8pm and crowds at sports and other events have been limited to 5,000 people. Shops and schools remain open.
The restrictions will stay in place until at least February 7 and will not be lifted in Tokyo until cases decline to 500 a day.
Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga announced the call after 2,447 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday
JAPAN STRUGGLES TO REIN IN THE VIRUS
Japan, though less seriously hit by the pandemic than many places, has been unable to rein in the virus to the extent some countries in the region have, with a new daily tally of more than 7,000 for the first time on Thursday, media reported.
Tokyo in particular has been a constant worry with its tally of positive tests jumping to 2,447 on Thursday, from a record of 1,591 the previous day.
In all, Japan has seen 267,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.
Authorities aim to start a vaccination campaign by the end of February.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said earlier that exhibitions of the Olympics torch around the capital had been postponed.
The four prefectures are home to about 150,000 restaurants and bars. Suga has said limiting their hours had helped bring cases down in regions such as Osaka and Hokkaido.
But in a worrying sign, Osaka on Wednesday reported a record 560 new cases while Hokkaido saw cases surpass 100 for the first time in a week.
The prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto were considering requesting a state of emergency, media reported.
According to simulations by Kyoto University scientist Hiroshi Nishiura, infections in Tokyo could reach 3,500 a day by February and hit 7,000 by March without new measures.
Emergency measures could take at least two months to bring infections to manageable levels, he said.
The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep the economy going.
Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will get publicised on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.
The announcement raises yet more concern about the prospect of the rescheduled Olympics taking place in July, despite the insistence of Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga and others that it will.
Upcoming exhibitions of the Olympic torch around Tokyo have already been postponed and there are now major doubts about the safety of the torch relay, which is due to begin on March 25 and involve 10,000 runners across four months.
Prime Minister Suga’s government is seeking to limit damage to the world’s third-biggest economy while striving to defeat the virus once and for all as it looks ahead to staging the postponed summer Olympics.
“The global pandemic has been a tougher one than we expected, but I’m hopeful we can overcome this,” Suga told a televised news conference.
“For this to happen, I must ask citizens to endure life with some restrictions.”
Some medical experts have said they fear the government’s plan for limited restrictions might not be enough.
“We may need to think about a state of emergency nationwide,” Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said on Wednesday.
Suga said damage to the economy was inevitable but he would aim to protect jobs and businesses with a 70 trillion yen ($670 billion) stimulus package, which is being rolled out.
Tokyo-based Teikoku Databank said this week bankruptcies in the food and drink sector hit a high of 780 in 2020, up from the previous record of 732.
Suga said the government would increase compensation for the restaurant business to 1.8 million yen ($17,400) a month from 1.2 million yen.
Analysts say the new state of emergency would probably trigger an economic contraction in the first quarter – a reversal from a 2.1% annualized expansion forecast in a Reuters poll last month.