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Japan Poised to Announce State of Emergency, Cinemas Expected To Close

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes
FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe says he is ready to declare a state of emergency from as early as Tuesday, as part of a growing response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The declaration would affect Tokyo, second city Osaka and five other densely populated prefectures.

The Abe government had attempted to resist emergency legislation, but the biological and economic impact of the virus’s spread now justify such action. Abe announced the plans in a briefing Monday evening from his offices.

“(The declaration) is estimated to last a period of one month. This state of emergency declaration is to ensure the medical care system stays intact and to ask for even more cooperation from the public to avoid contact with each other to reduce infection as much as possible,” Abe said.

Tokyo reported 83 new confirmed infections on Monday, following 117 on Saturday, and a grim daily record of 143 on Sunday. Excluding the infections on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Japan has now recorded over 4,000 COVID-19 cases. With its ageing population, Japan is particularly susceptible to fatal impact. To date, 85 people have died.

Although Abe did not go into detail about which businesses will be shuttered, the declaration allows local authorities to call for closure of movie theaters and other entertainment venues. It is highly likely that Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike will call for theaters to close, which will effectively shut down the entire theatrical business in Japan since distributors would not be able to recoup without their largest local market. Japan is the world’s third largest cinema market, behind North America and China.

Legally, Koike cannot force cinema closures, but distributors and exhibitors will probably fall in line. Some, such as Toho, have already moved to close urban theaters. The emergency powers also permit governors to requisition land and build emergency hospitals.

The Tokyo Medical Association declared a state of medical emergency in the capital on Monday, as the number of in-patients grew.

Last month, parliament (the Diet) voted in favor of measures for COVID-19 to be specifically included in existing special measures legislation that was passed in 2012.