Cinemas, museums and other events have been asked to reduce attendance in Tokyo and three nearby areas as Japan today (Thursday) declared a state of emergency as COVID-19 cases surge.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the move, which will be effective from Friday to February 7, as Tokyo confirmed 2,447 new coronavirus cases in a day.
“The situation has worsened recently nationwide, and I feel a strong sense of crisis,” Suga said at a meeting of the government’s task force on the pandemic response. “We will take thorough steps.”
The emergency represents Japan’s second such declaration since April 2020, which took place two weeks after the Olympic Games in Tokyo were officially postponed due to the virus.
The measures are more relaxed than those under the previous state of emergency last spring, which saw schools and many businesses nationwide temporarily close and events cancelled.
Over the course of the month, events in the region will be capped at 5,000 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, while people are being encouraged to work from home or stagger their shifts, with the goal of reducing the number of people in the office by 70 per cent.
The government has been trying to avoid another state of emergency due its economic impact as it prepares to host the Olympics in the summer, which is set to open in under 200 days.
In an address to mark the start of 2021, Suga reiterated his intent to hold “safe and secure” Tokyo Olympics.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also insisted the Games “will be the light at the end of the tunnel” and underlined the organisation’s “determination” to stage the Olympics as planned.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, with the Paralympics due to follow from August 24 to September 5.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the response to COVID-19, told parliament the emergency declaration could be lifted if the daily number of coronavirus cases in Tokyo falls to 500, or about one-fifth of the current level.