Emergency, But No Lockdown: The Impact of the New Pandemic Measures

Society Lifestyle

Emergency Declared in Tokyo and Other Areas

Amid the steady rise of COVID-19 cases in Japan, including two straight days of infections in Tokyo exceeding 100 persons, the government on April 7 declared a state of emergency, based on an amended law adopted by the Diet in March 2020 that authorizes the prime minister to respond to the current spread of COVID-19.

The original legislation, enacted in 2012, is aimed at strengthening the measures needed to safeguard the health and lives of the people and minimize the impact from new strains of influenza and other infectious diseases that could spread rapidly throughout the nation. This special measures law was amended in March to include COVID-19 within its provisions.

Governors Empowered to Take Special Measures

Article 32 of the law stipulates that a state of emergency can be declared in a case where is an outbreak of infections far more serious than seasonal influenza occurs and spreads rapidly throughout the country, seriously damaging people’s lives and the national economy. If this occurs, the head of the government taskforce (the prime minister) can issue a declaration that specifies, first, the period of time for the emergency, and second, the area, or areas, where it is declared, while third, also providing an overview of the situation. Once the declaration has been made, the governors of each prefecture involved are empowered to specify the period of time and areas more concretely and to implement emergency measures, such as urging residents to refrain from non-essential outings or requesting restrictions on the use of certain facilities. 

Decisions on the actual specification of time periods and areas take into consideration the overall situation at the time the emergency is declared, such as the state of the spread of COVID-19, as well as the opinions of experts.

The third requirement, for an overview of the situation, stipulates the inclusion of key information. In the current pandemic situation, this information includes areas where infections have been confirmed, patient numbers, and the like, as well as the pathogenicity of the virus, its symptoms, and ways to prevent its transmission and spread.

A file photo of the scramble intersection in Shibuya. Reducing the crowds commonly seen at this and other popular spots will be key to reducing the virus’s spread.
A file photo of the scramble intersection in Shibuya. Reducing the crowds commonly seen at this and other popular spots will be key to reducing the virus’s spread.

A question that concerns most Japanese is how their lives will be affected once a state of emergency has been declared.

After a declaration is made, governors of the prefectures it covers are able to apply the provisions listed in Article 45 of the special measures law to prevent the spread of infection. Specifically, the governors are empowered to make the following demands.

Refrain from Unnecessary Outings

Governors are allowed to enlist the cooperation of residents in certain areas, during a specified period of time, to stem the spread of infection, including asking them to only go outside to the minimum extent necessary.

Restrict Use of Sports and Entertainment Facilities

The governors are also empowered to issue requests to the operators of sports and entertainment facilities where large numbers of people gather, asking them to restrict the use of such facilities. Concrete examples of the measures taken in such cases include not only restricting or halting use entirely, but also asking facility visitors to cooperate in infection prevention, such as by wearing masks and maintaining proper coughing etiquette.

No City Lockdowns

The Cabinet Secretariat posted information on its COVID-19 website to respond more concretely to questions from the public, including the following responses to commonly asked questions.

— Will an emergency declaration place cities in Japan under a penalty-enforced lockdown, as in Europe or the United States?

No. Japan is not going to forcibly lock down its cities through the imposition of fines on people going out without permission, as has been done in parts of Europe and the United States. Based on the special measures law, prefectural governors will be allowed to call on residents to refrain from going outside and to make requests or provide instructions and announcements regarding restricted use of facilities.

— Once the state of emergency is declared, will going out be forbidden?

No. Even if a prefectural governor issues the request for people to stay inside, they are still allowed to go out for such necessary things as seeking medical care, purchasing necessary supplies, or commuting to an essential job. They are also able to take walks, go for a run, or do other things to maintain their health and lives.

After the declaration of a state of emergency, what sort of facilities will be restricted?

With regard to facilities, the governors are empowered to request the restricted use of sports and entertainment facilities above a certain scale where large numbers of people gather, as well as to place restrictions on gatherings of people.

File photo: A scene of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district at night.
File photo: A scene of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district at night.

The prefectures where the COVID-19 emergency has been declared are Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa in the Kantō area, Osaka and Hyōgo in Kansai, and Fukuoka in Kyūshū. It is hoped that the country will come together during this crisis to prevent the further spread of infections and that residents will make concerted efforts to behave responsibly.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on April 6, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)


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