All national dailies reported on Prime Minister Abe’s announcement last night that he was placing all 47 prefectures under a state of emergency, effective immediately, based on the assessment that the coronavirus outbreak appears to be spreading nationwide, as cluster infections have occurred across the country due to people’s movement from urban areas to the countryside. As a result of the declaration, which will be in effect through May 6, the governors of the 40 prefectures other than those that had already been placed under emergency will now be able to impose various restrictions to limit people-to-people contact. The premier reportedly cited the upcoming Golden Week holidays as one of the main reasons for expanding the state of emergency by saying: “We must minimize people’s movement during Golden Week. In order to end the emergency declaration on May 6, we must reduce people-to-people contact by at least 70% and preferably 80%.” Abe reportedly urged people not to make nonessential trips between prefectures. “Never cross prefectural borders for nonessential outings,” he said.
In addition to the seven prefectures already under a state of emergency, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Gifu, Aichi, and Kyoto were declared prefectures that should especially be on alert for the spread of the virus on account of a spike in infections there. The dailies noted that smartphone tracking records and other data have indicated that the number of people out and about has not declined drastically in these prefectures despite local outbreaks. The GOJ is reportedly afraid that healthcare systems in the countryside may be overwhelmed if infections that originated in metropolitan areas spread in rural Japan.”
Some prefectural leaders who have witnessed a surge in infection cases in their jurisdictions reportedly welcomed the expansion since they are now able to ask local businesses to close their operations. However, such business closure requests may not be heeded by some shop owners since unlike Tokyo and other wealthy urban prefectures, they probably will not be able to offer subsidies to encourage them to close. The dailies voiced concern that economic contraction may pick up additional momentum under the nationwide quasi-lockdown.
The papers speculated that PM Abe chose to expand the state of emergency in view of a steady drop in public support for him, noting that more people are apparently supportive of Tokyo Governor Koike’s tough stance on combating the novel pathogen. Asahi and Mainichi claimed that the expansion appeared to be politically motivated rather than science-based, saying that even some public health experts on the GOJ coronavirus taskforce were caught by surprise by Abe’s decision to declare a nationwide state of emergency because several prefectures have reported none or only a few cases of infection. The two liberal dailies speculated that the premier chose to expand the scope of the state of emergency to justify his decision to replace the controversial 300,000-yen cash allowance plan with an across-the-board 100,000-yen allowance per person.