Tokyo, Aug. 9 (Jiji Press)–An increasing number of experts and local government leaders in Japan are pushing for a legal system that would enable lockdowns in order to rein in the surge in the number of novel coronavirus infection cases.
The calls reflect their frustration over the unabated spread of infections under the current framework, which allows forcible measures to be taken only on a limited scale.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is cautious about lockdowns, but some members in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party are also urging discussions on the option.
At a meeting of the government’s panel of experts on basic coronavirus response measures on Thursday, where the government proposed expanding areas designated for pre-emergency measures, one participant called on the government to consider the advisability of implementing lockdowns in Japan.
Shigeru Omi, head of the panel, told reporters that if the spread of infections cannot be contained, the panel would need to go as far as to discuss a legal framework for lockdowns.
The National Governors’ Association has put forward proposals for antivirus measures, including one seeking a study on measures like lockdowns.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said at a videoconference on Tuesday that it may be time to discuss the need for a legal revision.
Lockdowns have been carried out mainly in the United States and Europe, shutting down stores and suspending public transportation. But the content and binding power of the steps differ from country to country. One expert said there is no strict definition of a lockdown.
Under the special measures law on responses to the novel coronavirus crisis, the Japanese government can only link penalties to its requests for businesses to close or shorten service hours.
Experts and the governors’ association have not proposed any specific form of lockdown, but they seem to be looking at a binding order for citizens to stay home, with violators to be punished.
But the government remains circumspect.
“A lockdown does not suit Japan,” Suga said at a news conference on July 30. “In Europe, even lockdowns did not easily lead to exits. In hindsight, what worked were vaccines.”
The remarks signaled his intention to do his best to promote vaccinations, which he regards as the trump card in the fight against the epidemic.
Suga’s cautious stance on lockdowns apparently reflect concerns that such strong measures would deal a blow to the economy.
As lockdowns would involve restrictions on private rights, a senior government official also said it would be very difficult to win enactment of a related bill with strong binding power.
At a meeting on Tuesday, Suga and Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, both took a guarded attitude toward legislative measures enabling lockdowns.
With the ongoing state of emergency turning out to be less effective than ever, however, some in the LDP said it is inevitable to introduce lockdowns in Japan.
LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura said on television on Wednesday, “We can’t say we don’t have to hold discussions as it (lockdown) does not suit (Japan).”
Shimomura questioned the wisdom of the prime minister’s sole focus on vaccinations. “What should we do if vaccines prove not effective against new (coronavirus) variants?” he said.