Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday night he will declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures, as Tokyo saw a surge of new coronavirus infections and a medical group warned of looming shortages at ICU facilities.
The state of emergency, which will be officially declared on Tuesday, applies to Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures.
"Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency," Abe said.
Under a recently amended law, Abe is empowered to declare a state of emergency if the coronavirus outbreak "poses a grave threat to people's lives and health" and "the rapid spread of the virus is likely to have a huge negative impact on people's daily livelihoods and the nation's economy".
After the declaration, the government can order school closures and limit access to large facilities such as department stores and movie theaters. Local authorities would also be able to set up temporary hospitals without the consent of owners of lands or buildings.
However, different from lockdowns in other countries, the government is only permitted to ask residents to stay at home, except for essential reasons, instead of a stringent one that mandates fines and arrests for non-compliance.
"In the Japanese legal system, there is no mechanism to lock down a city by force like in Europe or the United States," Japan's top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said on Monday.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step as more than 3,880 people have tested positive and 95 have died. The numbers in Tokyo have kept breaking its records for the past week. The city now has more than 1,000 cases.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Japanese Society of Intensive Care Medicine said Japan is in urgent need of doctors to treat seriously ill patients and ICU facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.