On March 10, the Japanese Cabinet agreed on revisions to a 2013 special measures law that is expected to pass the Diet by March 13. The revisions, when they go into effect, add coronavirus to the list of infectious diseases that the government is granted enhanced authority to deal with if it declares a state of emergency.
Under the 2013 special measures law, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency, specifying a timeframe and geographic area, when an infectious disease threatens enormous impact on the lives of people and the economy. If a state of emergency is declared, prefectural governments would temporarily have authority to request or order local residents to refrain from unnecessary outings or holding events.
Also on March 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a second package of support for measures for those impacted by the government’s decision to close schools in late February. Subsidies would be provided for those who work without regular work contracts and those forced to take time off from their jobs to care for school-age children who can no longer attend school. The government will also provide refunds of lunch money to parents. As of March 12, it is reported that the government is considering a third batch of measures to help protect people’s lives and stabilize the economy.
Abe has declared the spread of the coronavirus as a “state of historic emergency,” which has implications for documentation of government proceedings. A state of historic emergency means that it will be mandatory to keep records of the dates, speakers, and the content of government meetings. This is the first time that this designation has been used since it was provided for in 2012.
Over the weekend, Japan imposed entry restrictions on travelers from China and South Korea, including Japanese citizens. All travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and South Korea, are being asked to stay in their homes or hotels for 14 days after arriving in Japan and to not use public transportation. Flights from China and South Korea will be restricted to Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport, and passenger transportation by ship from the two countries will be halted. Visa waivers from Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea will be suspended, and visas issued in China and South Korea will be invalidated.
China showed understanding for Japanese measures, but South Korea denounced them as unfriendly and unscientific. South Korean countermeasures include suspending visa waivers for Japan. Japanese officials hoped that South Korea would understand, that restrictions are supposed to be temporary, only until the end of March.
At this time, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee appears determined to go ahead with the Olympics, scheduled to start on July 24.