Asia Minute: Tokyo Under State of Emergency

Jan 8, 2021

The city of Tokyo is under a state of emergency today. New cases of the coronavirus have been spiking this week, and have set new daily records.

Tokyo health officials reported nearly 1,600 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — breaking the record set a day earlier.

On Thursday that record was shattered, as cases spiked by more than 50% overnight to nearly 2,500.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency that will last until February 7th. The order includes Tokyo and the surrounding areas of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama — together covering some 37 million people.

Companies are to encourage their employees to work from home, with a goal of cutting office populations by 70%.

Residents are being urged to avoid “non-essential outings.”

The size of public gatherings has been cut — bars and restaurants are being asked to close by 8 p.m.

One twist in the Japanese system is that there is not a legal means of enforcement of the conditions of the state of emergency — compliance with the orders is strongly encouraged, but technically voluntary. So instead of punishment, the government is focusing on incentives to shift some behavior — for example giving restaurants which shorten their hours the equivalent of up to more than $17,000 for the month.

Not everything is closed.

Schools will remain open, and national university exams remain on schedule for later this month.