April 16th 2020
TOKYO – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to expand the state of emergency currently effective for selected prefectures to the entire nation in an attempt to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading further and straining the country’s health care system, a government official said Thursday.
Abe also instructed the ruling party to consider reworking a state budget to deliver 100,000 yen ($930) in cash to all citizens to help them weather the fallout from the pandemic, a government source said.
Abe acquiesced to Komeito, the coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, which broached the idea of a blanket cash distribution plan and called for a rare review of an extra budget for fiscal 2020 that is already set to be submitted to parliament.
His decision to declare a national emergency comes as some local governments in areas other than the seven prefectures placed under the central government’s declaration last month entered a state of emergency of their own. A nationwide state of emergency will deal a debilitating blow to an economy already on the brink of a recession.
Tokyo, Osaka, and five other prefectures are under a monthlong state of emergency that began on April 7 and will last until May 6 when this year’s Golden Week holidays end.
The declaration for the seven prefectures, based on a revised law enacted last month, has given their governors the power to take bolder preventive steps and allows them to call for school and business closures, though there are no legal penalties for noncompliance.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s economic revitalization minister who is charge of issues related to the viral outbreak, said the government wants to expand the coverage of the existing emergency declaration to all 47 prefectures.
The expansion is necessary to limit people’s movements before the holidays amid rapidly increasing infections in some areas, Nishimura told a government meeting.
Once the prime minister makes a declaration based on a government advisory panel’s assessment, each prefectural governor gains the authority to expropriate private land and buildings to provide medical care.
They can also requisition medical supplies and food from companies that refuse to sell them and punish those that hoard or do not comply.
The governors of Kyoto and Aichi asked the government to declare a state of emergency for their prefectures, a move that would give them the legal backing to take bolder steps against the new coronavirus.
Aichi, along with some other prefectures, has already declared their own emergencies to underscore their heightened sense of crisis.
Stay-at-home requests by local authorities and business suspensions are dealing an additional blow to the economy already hit by the 2 percent consumption tax hike in October last year, economists say.
The government has put together a record 108 trillion yen economic package that includes a scheme to give 300,000 yen to households whose income is deemed to have fallen sharply due to the virus outbreak.
The government’s plan has been to seek parliamentary approval next week for the extra budget — a requisite for launching the program.
Earlier Thursday, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi urged Abe in a phone conversation to revise the budget being compiled to enable the distribution of 100,000 yen to all citizens regardless of income levels, a day after he pushed the prime minister to consider the new cash handout plan.
Abe instructed Fumio Kishida, the LDP’s policy chief, to consider revising the extra budget for fiscal 2020, the government source said.
Besides Kishida, Abe met with LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and Finance Minister Taro Aso at the prime minister’s office, apparently to discuss the proposed scheme.
Nikai is also a supporter of a 100,000 yen cash handout, but believes it should be contingent on the recipients’ income levels.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stuck to the government’s position that the first priority is to have the current extra budget proposal approved by the Diet.
The global coronavirus pandemic has raised calls for economic stimulus, but Japan is cautious about taking on new debt to finance bold spending measures as its fiscal health is the worst among all developed nations with its debt twice the size of the economy.
Japan now has over 9,000 coronavirus infections confirmed including about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship operated by a U.S. company that was quarantined near Tokyo in the early stages of the epidemic in Japan.