By Shigeyuki Ii
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has extended the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency until the end of May to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The unprecedented state of emergency has entered its second month.
The number of new coronavirus cases nationwide has been on a downward trend. Newspapers largely agreed that the extension of the state of emergency was unavoidable because medical institutions are severely strained. However, continued restrictions on activities, such as voluntary restraint on nonessential outings, have been dealing an increasingly heavy blow to the economy, prompting many newspapers to call for clear criteria for lifting the declaration.
The Sankei Shimbun pointed out, “Containing the virus would be difficult if the declaration were immediately lifted and people returned to living and working as they did prior to the outbreak.” It also supported the government’s decision to extend the declaration, saying: “The extension is unavoidable. The entire nation should work toward the lifting of the declaration.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun also praised the government decision, saying, “Given the tight situation at medical institutions on the front lines, the extension of the period to a certain extent can be called reasonable.” It also emphasized: “Even as the guard against the virus is relaxed, will the infection not spread again? The government is requested to carefully listen to experts’ opinions and cautiously make decisions.”
The government designated Tokyo, Osaka, and 11 other prefectures where the total number of infections is high as “special alert prefectures” when it extended the declaration and requested that people continue to voluntarily refrain from going out and business continue to cooperate with closure requests. It allowed the remaining 34 prefectures to relax stay-at-home requests and other restrictions.
The Nikkei touched on these decisions and said, “The government will enter a phase of seeking ways to curb infections while maintaining corporate business activities, education activities, and cultural activities.” It also made a request, saying: “The prolonged voluntary restrictions on nonessential outings will have a severe impact on the economy. The government should reveal its exit strategy to the public toward the lifting of the declaration by harnessing the knowledge of experts from various fields.”
The Mainichi Shimbun also underscored: “The public is worried about how long self-imposed restraints will continue with the extended emergency declaration. An “exit strategy” for lifting it is required.” It also expressed concern, saying: “First the government needs to present the standards for judging that the declaration can be lifted. If it is lifted before infections have been brought under control, then the virus could start spreading again and further hobble society and the economy.”
The Asahi Shimbun concluded, “It is becoming increasingly clear that the path back to some sense of normality will be a lengthy stop-and-go, back-and-forth process marked by repeated phases of tightening and loosening the restrictions in response to ebbs and flows in the level of the seriousness of the situation.” It also requested the government: “It is crucial for the government to lay out a long-term vision for dealing with the consequences of the pandemic. This policy vision should not just include plans for ending the state of emergency but also offer blueprints for Japan’s society and economy after that.”
Sankei focused on Osaka Prefecture regarding the criteria for lifting the emergency declaration. It pointed out, “Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura indicated that he would decide whether to ease the prefectural government’s requests for voluntary restraints on unnecessary outings and doing business in light of the bed occupancy rate and the positive rate of infection in the prefecture.” It also suggested: “Osaka could be a model case for striking a balance between anti-infection measures and socioeconomic activities. It is recommended that the central government support Osaka.”
Nikkei also wrote, “The public is gradually getting tired of self-restraint due to the prolonged anti-infection measures.” It requested, “The government needs to set specific numerical targets, such as the number of new cases and the percentage of infections with unknown transmission routes that would lead to the easing or lifting of the emergency declaration.”
The understanding and cooperation of the public is indispensable for the emergency declaration aimed at curbing the new coronavirus. That makes the government’s accountability all the more important. But Sankei criticized the government, saying, “It was disappointing that the government’s explanation was insufficient despite its call on the public for cooperation.”
South Korea, which appears to have been quick to stem the coronavirus outbreak there, confirmed a cluster of infections in Seoul again after the country eased its stay-at-home order, highlighting the difficulty of anti-virus measures. Countries around the world have begun seeking ways to resume economic activities. Japan also needs to consider lifting the declaration while securing transparency by giving thorough explanations to the public.