A state of emergency declaration gives prefectural governors the legal authority to request that residents cooperate with anti-coronavirus measures. On Monday, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said the second declaration would be less expansive, but more intensive, than the one instituted last spring. Measures this time around will be focused on curbing the spread of the virus at drinking and dining establishments, which experts say are high-risk settings for transmission.
The declaration will be issued for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures. Last spring's declaration was initially issued for Tokyo and six other prefectures, before being widened to cover the entire country.
An emergency declaration allows prefectural governors to ask residents to refrain from all nonessential excursions. The measure makes exceptions for grocery shopping, commuting and hospital visits. It is not mandatory.
For this declaration, the four governors will ask residents to refrain from nonessential excursions after 8 p.m. each day. It is also considering limiting the number of spectators at events to half their venues' capacity, or 5,000, whichever is the smallest.
Shops and restaurants
All drinking and dining establishments will be asked to close by 8 p.m. The government is studying the option of boosting subsidies to 60,000 yen, or roughly 580 dollars, per day for each dining establishment that complies with that request.
The declaration will also include percentage targets for the implementation of remote working. The government will ask companies to have 70% or more of their staff work from home.
Schools and university admissions
The declaration gives governors the authority to close prefectural high schools and request that private schools and elementary and junior high schools under municipal jurisdiction shut down.
But the government has already announced that it will not request all schools in the affected prefectures to close. This is in stark contrast to last spring, when most schools across the country were forced to shut during the first wave of coronavirus outbreaks.
The government also says the national university admissions exam will start as scheduled on January 16, with anti-infection measures in place.
Revision of special law and ordinance
A state of emergency declaration grants significantly less authority in Japan than in other countries, and as such, its success in containing the virus will rely on voluntary closures rather than enforceable lockdowns. This has raised concerns that a declaration will not be enough to drive down the number of cases.
For his part, Suga says he will also submit a revision of a special anti-coronavirus law to the Diet. The measure would allow for the imposition of penalties on businesses that do not comply with state of emergency requests.
The government also plans to revise an ordinance within the law so prefectural governors can ask restaurants to shorten business hours and made public the names and other information businesses that refuse. The law currently empowers governors to ask certain types of establishments to limit their hours, with these categories laid out in the ordinance.
Suga also said on Monday that the government is stepping up efforts to begin vaccinations by late February. Medical workers will be given highest priority, followed by the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer applied for fast-track approval of the use of its vaccines with the Japanese health ministry last month. The company had earlier reached a basic agreement with the government to supply enough vaccines to inoculate 60 million people by June this year. Clinical tests have been underway in the country since last October.