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Japan’s prime minister weighs state of emergency amid growing coronavirus cases

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS People wore face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus offer prayers for New Year at the Kanda Myojin Shrine on the first business day of the year, in Tokyo, Monday. Kanda Myojin is known as the shrine of commerce and industry.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    People wore face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus offer prayers for New Year at the Kanda Myojin Shrine on the first business day of the year, in Tokyo, Monday. Kanda Myojin is known as the shrine of commerce and industry.

TOKYO >> Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday vaccine approval was being speeded up and border controls beefed up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised to consider declaring a state of emergency.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa had asked the national government Saturday to declare the emergency after the capital saw a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve.

Worries have been growing about holding the Olympics in July, which will mean the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media.

Suga stressed his determination to hold the Olympics, which he said will serve as “proof that people have overcome the coronavirus,” giving “hope and courage.” Preparations were moving ahead, he said.

Japan issued an official emergency warning in April last year through late May, urging restaurants to close early and people to work from home.

Japan has never had a lockdown, attempting to juggle the need to keep the economy going with health risks.

The declaration carries no legal penalties but works as a strong warning for people to work from home, reduce non-essential outings and social distance, as well as having businesses close early, in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Suga told reporters the ruling party will push for a legal change when parliament reconvenes later this month, to allow penalties for violations.

“The situation remains extremely serious,” Suga said at his New Year’s news conference at the prime minister’s residence.

Suga also stressed that vaccine approval was being expedited by a month so that vaccinations can start next month.

Cases have been growing in Japan in recent weeks, with more than 3,400 deaths so far related to the coronavirus.

Suga has come under criticism over what some see as his mishandling of the pandemic. He went out to an expensive steak dinner, although the government has recommended against dining out in big groups. On Monday he urged restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m.

Most Japanese are wearing masks, but shopping districts and shrines, popular places for the year-end and the New Year, have been packed.

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