Tokyo could declare new emergency if coronavirus worsens

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo could declare a state of emergency if the coronavirus situation in the Japanese capital deteriorates further, its governor warned on Friday, as debate deepened over how to respond to record increases in new infections.

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Yuriko Koike said Tokyo had confirmed 463 new cases on Friday - another single-day record - and implored residents to follow health guidelines to contain the spread of the virus.

“If the situation worsens, Tokyo would have to think about issuing its own state of emergency,” Koike told a news conference.

“We’re entering the summer vacation period when people normally make plans for travel and events but unfortunately, this summer will be different from a normal year.”

Koike’s comments echoed those made just three months ago when she asked residents to stay home during the late April-early May Golden Week holidays, as Japan was under a nationwide state of emergency.

The government lifted that emergency in late May after Japan appeared to have contained the outbreak, touting its mask-wearing habits and health system as some of the factors that helped it fare better than Europe and the United States.

But the virus has made a worrying resurgence, particularly in the past week, just as the government launched its controversial Go To Travel subsidy campaign aimed at reviving its domestic tourism industry.

The number of daily new cases in Japan hit a new record on Thursday, with infections spreading rapidly not only in Tokyo but also in other regions.

In contrast to Tokyo’s governor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated the government’s stance that Japan did not need to re-impose a nationwide state of emergency.

He said the current trend in infections was different from that of the first peak in March and April, when there was a greater number of serious cases and infections among the higher-risk elderly population.

Those under 40 with mild or no symptoms have accounted for up to three-quarters of recent cases, with clusters at bars blamed for much of the upsurge.

Opposition lawmakers, however, have accused the government of sending mixed messages and putting the economy before virus containment with its launch of the Go To Travel campaign.

“Of course we need to make the economy better, but people are still worried about the spread of the virus,” Ryosuke Takeda, a lawmaker from the Japanese Communist Party, told Reuters.

“The administration has been saying they will make sure to achieve both containment of the coronavirus and economic recovery, but the hasty start of the ‘Go To’ campaign tells me (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe and (Economy Minister Yasutoshi) Nishimura chose the economy over prevention of the virus.”

Reporting by Junko Fujita, Chris Gallagher and Ju-min Park; Editing by Sam Holmes