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Tokyo declares state of emergency over coronavirus case surge but promises ‘safe and secure’ Olympics

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to improve the coronavirus situation in one month, authorizing more robust measures on Thursday to fight a surge in infections. The announcement comes days after the prime minister’s coronavirus expert panel recommended that a state of emergency should be declared and governors from the affected prefectures urged the central government to act, due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The state of emergency will come into force on Friday, lasting until February 7, and will require residents to stay home. Restaurants and bars will close at 8pm, with department stores, gyms, and entertainment facilities working shorter hours.

Employees will be encouraged to work from home to reduce the number of people in the office by 70 percent.

It’s the second declaration of emergency since April, and the measures are more relaxed, as schools and many businesses were temporarily closed and events cancelled nationwide in the spring.

Those that fail to comply will not face penalties or fines, as Japanese law does not allow for strict lockdowns enforced with punishment. The government will increase financial support for those bars and restaurants that cooperate with the requirement to close by 8pm, and “name and shame” those that do not.

Despite the health crisis, the prime minister pledged earlier this month that Tokyo would host the Olympics this summer, promising that “steady preparations” would make the games “safe and secure.”

Japan and the International Olympic Committee decided in March last year to postpone the Games amid the developing coronavirus pandemic. 

Deaths from Covid-19 in Japan have doubled in less than two months and now stand at more than 3,700, with the total number of infections at more than 252,000. The Tokyo governor said last month that the strain on the city’s medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic was “severe.”

In late December, Japan confirmed that the new highly contagious strain of coronavirus originating in the UK is circulating in the country, and it has tightened travel restrictions.

The Japanese government reportedly expects to start mass vaccination against coronavirus in March. US-based vaccine manufacturer Pfizer applied in December for its vaccine to be approved in Japan, with the country ordering 120 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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