Japan declares state of emergency as coronavirus cases climb, but experts fear 'it's too late'

Shinzo Abe
(Image credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has officially declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures over the coronavirus crisis amid a surge in new cases.

Abe on Tuesday declared a state of emergency that will last until May 6 in prefectures including Tokyo, where residents had already been urged to avoid nonessential travel and which recently went from reporting fewer than 20 new cases a day on March 25 to reporting nearly 150 new cases on Sunday, per NPR.

Residents are being requested to stay home but not actually ordered to, and those who don't do so won't be penalized, The Associated Press reports. "Civil liberties protections in Japan don't allow authorities to issue jail terms or fines for non-compliance, so a heavy dose of peer pressure and the weight of the emergency declaration are being deployed instead as a cudgel," CBS News writes. The state of emergency "hands powers to local governments to try to contain the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, including by urging residents to stay at home," Bloomberg notes.

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During a news conference on Monday, Abe said, "We need your cooperation to prevent an explosive surge."

But some fear this is "too little, too late," arguing the Japanese government "has dithered in the face of an explosion in infections in the capital, and is still reluctant to impose the sort of extreme measures necessary to contain the virus — largely over concerns about the economic impact," The Washington Post writes.

Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College, London, told the Post, "It's too late. Tokyo has already entered an explosive phase, and the only way to stop the collapse in health care was to lock down the city as early as possible." Abe told parliament this week the government "will not lock cities down as has been done overseas."

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.