Advisory panel discusses emergency declaration

The Japanese government advisory panel on the coronavirus outbreak has discussed the state of emergency declaration that Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is set to issue on Thursday for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures.

The declaration is to cover Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, citing the need for a strong message as new cases soar in the metropolitan region.

The minister in charge of coronavirus response, Nishimura Yasutoshi, briefed experts on the current situation at the meeting on Thursday morning.

He said the healthcare system is overstretched in the Greater Tokyo area, and many indexes are at Stage Four, which calls for a state of emergency.

Nishimura suggested the declaration will remain in effect from Friday through February 7.

During that time, establishments that serve food and drinks will be asked to shorten their operating hours, people will be urged to refrain from non-essential outings, businesses will be recommended to promote teleworking to cut commuting by 70 percent, and event participants will be limited to half of the venue's capacity, or up to 5,000. But, schools will be allowed to remain open.

Nishimura explained that the government will take measures focused on high-risk settings, rather than halting a wide range of economic activities.

Health minister Tamura Norihisa said his ministry will work with medical institutions to make more beds available for coronavirus patients.

Tamura said they will also aim to raise payments for medical personnel to ensure that hospitals have enough staff.

The panel is believed to have exchanged views on the emergency declaration's target regions and duration.

The panel's views will be reported to the steering committees of both chambers of the Diet later in the day.

The prime minister is expected to issue the declaration at a meeting of the government task force that will convene at 5:15 p.m. Suga is scheduled to hold a news conference at 6:00 p.m.