A former rival of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has won a partial victory in a bid to get non-essential businesses in Tokyo to close after an emergency was declared over the coronavirus earlier this month.
Pachinko parlors and internet cafes in the capital will be asked to close, while “izakaya” drinking spots will be asked to cut back their hours under a plan to be announced later Friday, public broadcaster NHK said. The local government plans to put the plan into effect Saturday, the broadcaster said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who once sought to topple Abe, had wrangled with the central government over the timing and extent of the shutdown needed to control the virus. Confirmed cases in the capital have tripled in 10 days to top 1,500. The city reported a record 181 new infections Thursday.
While the emergency empowers local governors to order businesses to close, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura had called on them to monitor the effect of a request for individuals to stay at home before doing so. The government this week declared a month-long emergency in seven prefectures representing about half of Japan’s economy, deepening fears that output could plunge by as much as 20% in the current quarter.
Hairdressers, department stores and hardware stores will not be asked to close, NHK said, while hotels and public baths have been defined as essential services by the central government. Koike, who had lobbied for a broader shutdown, is set to give a news conference at 2 p.m. to explain more details.
Koike had pushed Abe to make the emergency declaration, sparking a rare public clash between the central government and the leader of the country’s biggest metropolitan area. Still, their spat has been far less hostile than similar rivalries in the U.S., where President Donald Trump has disparaged governors in virus-hit states such as Michigan, New York and Washington for criticizing his administration’s handling of the outbreak.
Abe said Japan was facing its worst economic crisis since the aftermath of World War Two when he declared the emergency and made an emotional appeal for people to stay home. The move handed powers to local governors, including allowing them to ask certain businesses to close temporarily.
While the sharp increase in infections sparked fears of a crisis like that seen in the U.S. and parts of Europe, Japan has so far fared better than most developed countries and has the fewest confirmed cases among the Group of Seven leading democracies.
Koike has warned a “lockdown” similar to those in some European cities might become necessary. By contrast, Abe has repeatedly said Japan has nothing in its legal armory to allow such stringent measures, and even blamed his delayed emergency declaration on the need to dispel the misunderstanding.
In a video message Wednesday, Koike said she was taken aback when Nishimura called in a meeting for a two-week delay on business closures. She said people were asking her to make an immediate decision.
Local governments have no means of forcing businesses to close and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the law required any restrictions to be kept to a minimum.
Koike and Abe have dominated headlines during the pandemic, working together to keep Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Olympics and reluctantly arranging an unprecedented one-year postponement to move the games to 2021.
“Abe was reluctant to declare a state of emergency in the first place because of the negative impact to the economy,” said Tina Burrett, an associate professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Based on what seems to be working in other countries, I think Koike has a more realistic understanding of what needs to happen to get the infection rate down.”
–With assistance from Emi Nobuhiro and Masumi Suga.
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