Japan's second state of emergency spells more economic hurt

Many parts of Japan are under a second state of emergency prompted by surging coronavirus cases. Government officials believe the economy should take less of a hit than during the first, declared last spring. But some experts are concerned. They say the country is on course to record negative growth for the January to March quarter, with more companies likely to shut their doors for good.

The current restrictions are in place for a month – at least for now. Restaurants are asked to close by 8 pm. Working from home is strongly requested, and domestic travel is limited. The government has also retightened the nation's borders by suspending fast-track entry for overseas businesspeople.

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide says the latest measures "are indispensable to turn the tide for the better". Restrictions apply in some of Japan's biggest cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. In total, the state of emergency covers an area that accounts for about 60 percent of the country's economy.

The Daiwa Institute of Research forecasts gross domestic product is set to fall to 1.8 percent. Analysts also say the unemployment rate is likely to rise above 4 percent, with the food and restaurant sector bearing the brunt.

Last week, the government announced a package totaling 740 billion yen, or about 7.1 billion US dollars, to help drinking and dining establishments cope with a fall in revenue.

Saizeriya, a chain that sells casual Italian cuisine, has criticized the government's slow response. During the three months ending last November, the company reported a net profit fall of more than 80% from the same period a year before. President Horino Issei says even some of the industry's big names could easily fail without additional support. Ringer Hut, a Japanese noodle chain, announced that it can no longer sponsor Olympic medal-winning gymnast Uchimura Kohei due to shrinking profits.

It's feared that the economic sacrifices won't be enough to curb the coronavirus. Medical experts say one month of restrictions is inadequate, and they are calling for the state of emergency to be in place for at least double the time.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were postponed last year due to the pandemic. They're scheduled to be held in summer, but once again hang in the balance. Suga hopes to start vaccinating the population late next month. Whether that brings the crisis under control in time remains to be seen.

Even before the second state of emergency, the International Monetary Fund predicted Japan's growth would be a mere 2.3 percent this year. The figure is the slowest among advanced countries. The government painted a much rosier picture of 4-percent growth in a scenario that's now unreachable.