April 18, 2024


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Japan ‘not planning’ a coronavirus emergency but entry bans loom

TOKYO: Japan has no plan to declare a state of emergency from April, its top government spokesman said on Monday (Mar 30), seeking to dispel mounting fears a recent spike in coronavirus cases could lead to a first-ever lockdown of the capital, Tokyo.

As the number of infections grows globally, however, Japan will raise its defences against imported cases by banning the entry of foreigners travelling from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe, the Asahi newspaper reported on Monday.

Non-Japanese citizens who have been in any of those places in the previous two weeks will be barred, the newspaper said. The government may also ban travel to and from some countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, it said, citing unidentified government sources.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the government had not made any decision on bans.

In an effort to limit the economic damage of the outbreak, the government also plans to issue more government bond, by US$149 billion from July, to fund a massive stimulus package, sources told Reuters.

“It’s not true that the government is planning on declaring a state of emergency from Apr 1,” Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a news conference.

Suga also said an expected telephone call between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), later on Monday had nothing to do with any decision on whether to call a state of emergency.

Japanese stocks retreated on Monday as the pandemic forced more countries to impose or tighten lockdown measures, raising fears Japan could follow suit from Apr 1 – the beginning of its fiscal year.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for a stimulus package worth 60 trillion yen (US$556 billion) that includes direct government spending of about 20 trillion yen.

The party’s proposal is likely to serve as a basis for the government’s stimulus package that is expected to be drawn up next week.

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Any lockdown in Japan would look different to mandatory measures imposed in some parts of Europe and the United States. By law, local authorities are only permitted to issue requests for people to stay at home, which are not legally binding.

But analysts said such a lockdown would inflict huge damage on an economy already on the cusp of recession due to the widening fallout from the pandemic, which has derailed Tokyo’s plans to stage Olympic Games this summer, disrupted supply chains and cooled consumption as events are cancelled and shops shut.

“I think the possibility of a lockdown of the Tokyo metropolitan area is rising,” said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“It would be like stopping blood flowing through Japan’s economy,” he said, estimating a lockdown of the city for a month could shrink Japan’s economy by about 5.1 trillion yen (US$47 billion) – nearly 1 per cent.

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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike will hold a media conference at 1100 GMT to make another appeal to the public to curb activities to prevent the spread of the virus, NHK reported.

Koike last week appealed to Tokyo residents to avoid all but necessary outings over the weekend.

Prime Minister Abe has pledged to deploy a huge stimulus package, bigger than one compiled during the global financial crisis, to combat the outbreak, which had infected nearly 1,900 people in Japan, with 56 deaths, as of Sunday.

Those numbers exclude 712 cases and 10 deaths from a cruise ship that was moored near Tokyo last month, public broadcaster NHK said.

Sunday’s daily tally of 68 new cases in the capital was a record. Bringing the tension home to many was the news that comedian Ken Shimura, a household name in Japan, had become its first celebrity to die of the virus.

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