Japan Declares State of Emergency, No Lockdown for COVID-19 Response
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a monthlong state of emergency yesterday in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A sharp recent climb in COVID-19 cases in Japan forced Abe to act, he said in a televised news conference.
“We are not at a stage where rapid nationwide spread is being observed, but some areas are under pressure, so we don’t have the luxury of time,” he said.
According to The Guardian, Abe is asking people to reduce their contact with others by 70 to 80 percent, and he called on nonessential workers to work from home and for companies to stagger shifts for employees who cannot work remotely.
The state of emergency initially applies to just Tokyo and six prefectures: Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka.
As of Monday, 6 April, there were 3,906 confirmed COVID-19 infections in Japan, more than a thousand of which were in Tokyo’s metropolitan region.
The declaration will give prefectural governors the authority to call on people to stay home and for nonessential businesses to close, but it is far from a strict lockdown. Public transport will continue, and no roads will be closed. Japanese officials are relying on self-restraint and the threat of publicly shaming businesses that refuse to comply.
One particular challenge Japan faces in its coronavirus response is the nature of its constitution, which was created after World War II and severely limits government overreach and protects civil liberties. It has not been revised since it was first created in 1947.
“Our government cannot force people to stay home,” says Seiji Uehara, Fire Safety Coordinator at an international financial company in Japan. Uehara, who is also senior regional vice president (SRVP) of the Japanese chapter of ASIS International, spoke via email with Security Management last week about the current situation in Japan. “The only thing they could do is apply some political pressure to organizations. Then organizations, like corporations, can regulate employees.”
“The law and constitution mean a lot for containing the virus, but our peaceful constitution has so many obstacles,” he says. “COVID-19 could be an initiator for a [constitutional] amendment…On the other hand, if Japan could overcome COVID-19 without a forced lockdown, it could be something of a good role model in the world.”
Abe and other Japanese officials say Japan cannot legally enforce hard lockdowns.
According to ABC News, “the state of emergency allows prefectural leaders to ask residents to stay home. They can also request closures of schools, some child and senior care or community centers, and stores and businesses that are considered nonessential. They can advise organizers to cancel or postpone events. The governors can also request use of private property to build hospitals and other medical facilities.”
Abe also announced a 108 trillion yen ($1 trillion) stimulus package to pay for coronavirus measures and protect businesses and jobs. According to Nomura Research Institute, a monthlong state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area could cause consumer spending to fall nearly 2.5 trillion yen ($23 billion).
Uehara adds that the full economic impact of the pandemic has yet to be seen, but will likely affect businesses and countries throughout Asia. Some, he notes, are coping better than others. “Other Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia are all locked down. Business has stopped, and poor people are suffering from lack of daily food and water supplies. China has reopened their businesses quite well, and South Korea is used to this situation because they have been prepared for a war with North Korea.”
The biggest challenge Japan faces so far is the risk to its healthcare system, Uehara adds, and Japan faces shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks, similar to many other countries.
However, there is a strong culture of regularly wearing face masks out in public already, he notes, particularly due to hay fever and allergy season. So even though public transit is still running, many travelers are wearing masks. And while in the Greater Tokyo Area, a metropolitan region of nearly 38 million people, social distancing measures may be challenging, “Japanese people don’t hug each other or kiss on the cheek, and they like social distance from each other… except at drinking times,” Uehara says.
For more pandemic response articles and resources, visit the ASIS Disease Outbreak: Security Resources page.