Upcoming decision on Japan virus measures derided as 'too little, too late'

TOKYO (Reuters) -A Japanese government decision on a state of emergency in and around Tokyo will be made this week, a top official said on Tuesday – a move derided by citizens as too little, too late, especially in a nation set to host the Olympics.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, makes his way on the first business day of the New Year in Tokyo, Japan, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference the government is working toward a decision on Thursday. Media reported on Monday preparations were being made for a state of emergency that would take effect by Friday and last about a month to curb a surge in coronavirus cases.

Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures, which have requested an emergency declaration, asked residents to refrain from non-essential, non-urgent outings after 8 p.m. from Friday until at least the end of the month, and said restaurants must close by that time.

But the measures are likely to be far less sweeping than they were during a roughly month-long state of emergency last year as the government seeks to keep economic damage to a minimum. Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said the government wouldn’t seek to close all schools, leaving that decision to local authorities.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that “limited, concentrated measures” would be most effective, but details remained unclear, including whether sports venues, theatres and cinemas would close.

Frustration reigned on social media, with many questioning the piecemeal measures, especially as the country is still planning to host the Olympics, postponed but set to open in under 200 days.

“Do you really think you can extinguish a fire by leaving it until it’s big and then just splashing it with water from a bucket?” wrote user Kei Koike.

Suga’s initial political honeymoon after taking his post last September has ended, his support rating battered by criticism of his response to the virus and his attending a group steak dinner in defiance of his own calls for caution.

He has also drawn criticism for his initial reluctance to pause a travel subsidy programme.

Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has recorded more than 245,000 cases and about 3,600 deaths – figures that pale compared with those overseas. But the numbers have been climbing rapidly.

Though Suga has pledged to have enough vaccine supply for the nation’s population of 126 million, Japan has yet to approve any for use and aims to begin inoculations by the end of February.

Pfizer Inc last month became the first drugmaker to apply for Japanese approval of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Japan has arranged to buy 120 million doses, or enough to inoculate 60 million people. But when those shots will be available remains unclear, as Pfizer has encountered production and roll-out snags in other parts of the world where its vaccine has already been approved for use.

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