Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2020

Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

  • More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died
  • Numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases

TOKYO: Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to try to stop the coronavirus, the prime minister said, with the government preparing a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.
More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died — not a huge outbreak compared with some hot spots. But the numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases, including 83 new ones on Monday.
“Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but will not be as restrictive as lockdowns in some other countries.
In most cases, there will be no penalties for ignoring requests to stay at home, and enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.
Abe also said the government has decided to launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.
It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.
“The government wants to help businesses continue and protect jobs,” Abe said.
An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80 percent of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12 percent said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2 percent, the survey showed.
But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favor a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.
An expert on the government’s coronavirus panel said Japan could avoid an explosive rise by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent.
Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura called for calm saying there was no need for people in designated prefectures to flee to other regions, which could spread infections, NHK reported.
While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.
Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.
Governors in Tokyo and elsewhere have asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. That has had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was needed.


India’s coronavirus cases cross 8 million, behind US

Updated 29 October 2020

India’s coronavirus cases cross 8 million, behind US

  • India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country
  • Health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections

NEW DELHI: India’s confirmed coronavirus caseload surpassed 8 million on Thursday with daily infections dipping to the lowest level this week, as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in.
India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country, the United States, which has over 8.8 million cases.
The Health Ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.
Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections.
But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.
India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 with the highest number of deaths at 1,275. According to the Health Ministry, more than 7.3 million Indians have recovered from COVID-19.
Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.
He warned that the ongoing festival season was likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localized outbreaks where people gathered without masks and didn’t adhere to social distancing.
Even as new cases are on a decline nationwide, the Indian capital appears to be heading toward another surge in infections. It reported its worst day with 4,853 cases on Wednesday, after falling to less than 1,000 new cases per day last month.
”I am shocked, but not surprised,” said Arvind Kumar, a New Delhi doctor. “There seems to be a sense of complacency in adhering to mask and distancing norms.”
Kumar warned that the rising air pollution during winter months in the capital could have “a deleterious effect on the incidence (of virus) and the mortality rate.”
Winters have become a time of health woes in New Delhi, with a toxic haze obscuring the sky and blocking sunlight. Pollution levels soar to severe levels, which worsen respiratory illnesses.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and a leading infectious disease expert, said a research has shown that a combination of cooler and drier air spreads the virus more efficiently.
“In drier air, those droplets tend to be smaller and can linger in the air,” Jha said.
India, with a population of 1.4 billion, aims to provide a coronavirus vaccine to 250 million people by July 2021. The government said it was planning to receive 450 million to 500 million vaccine doses and would ensure “equitable access.”