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Tokyo-area governors seek broader powers to fight omicron cases

  • January 18, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 2:13 a.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — The governors of Tokyo and three bordering prefectures on Monday asked the central government to permit stronger restrictions on social activity in the region to combat the rising number of coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.


Japan could decide this week on the requests, which seek “quasi-emergency” declarations for the prefectures. Approval would authorize the governors to take steps such as asking restaurants to shorten operating hours.


Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba concluded Monday that extra intervention is needed to deal with the current wave of COVID-19 cases. The occupancy rate of Tokyo’s hospital beds reached 21.1% on Monday, topping the 20% threshold needed to consider a tougher coronavirus response. A previous declaration covering the four prefectures was lifted at the end of September.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to discuss the requests with cabinet ministers on Tuesday, and the government will consult with experts on Wednesday. A declaration likely would last three weeks, including the three-day weekend ending Feb. 13.


Concerns are growing that health care workers and long-term-care staff are being infected or have come into close contact with the omicron strain. The absence of physicians and nurses would lead to a health care crunch.


Kishida said the government will respond fully to the request by the Tokyo-area prefectures despite the potential economic fallout.


“There will be concerns about the effects on the economy, but if our health care system becomes strained, it will take more time for society to recover,” he said on a television program.


Requests for quasi-emergency declarations could come from more prefectures, a government source said. They would join Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Okinawa, which have been under the stronger antivirus alert since Jan. 9.


The prefectures of Aichi, Gifu and Mie — located in the Chubu region where much of the auto industry is located — intend to deliver their request Tuesday. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura emphasized the need for the central Japanese region to band together against the virus.


“The three prefectures’ economic and living spheres are inseparable,” Omura said during a virtual meeting on Monday.


Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Monday that he will discuss requesting declarations with his counterparts from nearby Kyoto and Hyogo.


Niigata and Kumamoto prefectures look to finalize their request. Miyazaki Prefecture revealed that Gov. Shunji Kono has been in talks with the central government regarding a declaration. Nagasaki Prefecture also has discussed the matter with the government for consecutive days.

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