TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday declared a month-long state of emergency for seven prefectures in an effort to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
Apart from Tokyo and Osaka, the state of emergency also covers Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Hyogo and Fukuoka.
The declaration, effective through May 6, will enable prefectural governors to take stronger preventive measures.
The prefectures will have more power in taking actions such as instructing citizens to stay at home, and restricting the operation of schools and other facilities. However, there are no legal penalties for non-compliance.
Abe made the declaration at a meeting of the government's coronavirus task force at the prime minister's office.
"I decided to declare a state of emergency because we have reached a point in which the spread of infections has become rapid and widespread across the country and is threatening to have a grave impact on people's lives and the economy," Abe said.
People in the seven prefectures will be requested to refrain from unnecessary outings. Grocery shopping, visits to hospital, and commuting are excluded.
Abe also said there will be no lockdown like in other countries and the government does not plan to ask train operators to reduce services.
Abe stressed that the key is changing people's behavior. He said experts estimate the number of patients will peak in two weeks if person-to-person contact is reduced by 70 to 80 percent.
Thus, the government calls for avoiding going out to reduce 70 to 80 percent of people-to-people contact in the one-month period, Abe said in a press conference.
He expressed gratitude to related medical facilities and said in order to maintain the operation of hospitals and strengthen medical supply, about 10,000 hotel rooms in Kanto area and 3,000 rooms in Kansai area will be provided for infected people with mild symptoms.
Abe also asked people to take calm actions based on correct information.
The number of infections in Japan has topped 4,800, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The death toll stands at 108.