All national dailies highlighted remarks made to the press last night by Prime Minister Suga regarding the COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures. “I think it needs to be extended by about two weeks to protect peoples’ lives and livelihoods” given that healthcare capacities are still under strain in some areas, he said. He also pointed out that the number of new cases has not fallen sufficiently. Public health experts on the GOJ coronavirus taskforce are also calling for an extension in response to emerging variants. The GOJ is set to officially decide tomorrow on a two-week extension beyond March 7.
While claiming that the premier had wanted to end the emergency declaration quickly to rebuild the economy, the dailies said he shifted gears amid growing public opposition. Since the vaccine rollout is behind schedule, Suga reportedly feared that the administration might run into difficulties hosting the Tokyo Olympics if a resurgence occurred as a result of lifting the state of emergency too soon. Nikkei conjectured that Suga chose to take a concerted line with Tokyo Governor Koike on the extension in order to avoid a political showdown with the popular governor since her call for an extension appeared to be a political stunt aimed at spotlighting the Suga administration’s alleged inclination to prioritize economic recovery over infection prevention measures ahead of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly race in July and the general election in the autumn.
Pointing out that Suga repeatedly underscored during a press gaggle that he was the one who made the decision on the extension, Yomiuri wrote that the prime minister was keen to demonstrate his leadership. One GOJ source said it was important to avoid giving the impression that the premier succumbed to Koike’s pressure, while another said the premier was desperate not to be “outmaneuvered” by her.