Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has declared a state of emergency, which he announced on Tuesday, April 7.
The prefectures affected are Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka.
The state of emergency, which takes effect immediately and continues until May 6, allows prefectural governors to set rules and strong guidelines to fight the pandemic.
The state of emergency came as Abe faced increased pressure to declare a state of emergency amidst a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases across Japan, with Tokyo being particularly affected.
Tokyo had recorded 143 COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the second consecutive day the Japanese capital had seen triple digits. After Tokyo started seeing an increase of coronavirus cases, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko asked residents not to go out during the weekends unless it was absolutely necessary. Notably, the announcement was not an order but rather a recommendation. Koike was simply politely asking residents not to head out. One of the reasons being that Japan does not tend to interfere with people’s civil liberties. Koike had also been hinting that she wanted Abe to declare the state of emergency, since without it prefectural governors don’t have the power to set rules.
Before declaring the state of emergency Abe was required to specify which areas will be targeted. The bureaucratic process took some time since Abe did not have the power to declare the state of emergency himself. First he needed to consult with a panel of specialists. The government was also required to notify parliament of the intention to declare the state of emergency.
For that reason, Abe mentioned which prefectures were going to be targeted on Monday, April 6 while declaring the state of emergency the following day.
Under the state of emergency, prefectural governments CAN:
However, prefectural governments DO NOT have the power to:
The reason being that Japanese law protects individual liberties, and thus very strict lockdowns like the ones seen in Italy, Spain, China, and France are not possible.
Tokyo has secured 1,000 beds for coronavirus patients, which already represents fewer beds than the confirmed cases in the city. Koike plans to secure 4,000 beds.
The government is also toying with the idea of turning the Olympic Village into temporary hospitals to treat patients.
Some experts worry that the state of emergency is coming too late, and that Tokyo could end up having the same problems as New York City.