By Yoshifumi Takemoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will decide during its Golden Week holiday between April 29 and May 6 whether to extend its month-long state of emergency to fight a widening coronavirus outbreak, government and ruling party sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the state of emergency, which gives governors in hard-hit prefectures more clout to ask residents to stay home and businesses to close, on April 7 for seven prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka, western Japan. There are, however, no penalties for refusing those requests.
Abe, who has faced criticism for his response to the outbreak, expanded the emergency nationwide on April 16 to reduce travel during the Golden Week holidays, when many Japanese usually visit their hometowns or take other trips.
Tokyo, which has emerged as Japan’s coronavirus epicentre, confirmed 123 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total to 3,307, public broadcaster NHK said. Japan as a whole has more than 11,000 confirmed cases and 265 deaths, NHK reported.
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was concerned about Japan’s rising number of cases, although the country was not yet seeing a large-scale community outbreak. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the government would consult experts before May 6 for their views, a prerequisite to extending the emergency.
The number of confirmed cases, how long it is taking to double that number and the percentage of cases for which the route of infection cannot be traced, which has been rising, would all be taken into consideration, said Shigeru Omi, head of the expert advisory panel .
The government wants to wait until after passage of an extra budget to decide whether to extend the emergency, since an extension would spark calls for even more spending to cushion the impact of the outbreak and business shutdowns, the sources said. Debate on the budget is expected to begin on April 27.
“The budget will probably pass on April 30 or May 1,” a ruling party source said. “If possible, it’s better to decide on an extension at the same time.”
Japan on Monday boosted its stimulus package to a record $1.1 trillion to expand cash payouts to residents, and compiled a record 25.7 trillion yen extra budget for the fiscal year from April 1 to help fund the package.
(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)