Japan is poised to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other regions in an attempt to stem the march of the coronavirus.
“We hope to declare a state of emergency… after listening to the opinions of the advisory panel,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
“We are seeing rapid increases of new infections, particularly in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka.
“Considering that medical institutions are facing a critical situation, I have received opinions that the government should prepare to declare a state of emergency.”
Abe had previously shown reluctance to impose such a measure but he changed his mind after seeing the surge of Covid-19 infections in metropolitan areas, says Japan Times. He held talks with key ministers before making his announcement.
However, medical experts in Japan say the order has come too late, and that the outbreak in Tokyo is already beyond the point where it can be easily controlled, the BBC reports.
There are more than 1,000 cases in Tokyo alone, after the capital reported 143 new infections on Sunday.
The Japan Medical Association and Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, have both condemned Abe’s previous inaction. The German and US governments have also criticised Japan's failure to enforce social distancing measures and lack of testing.
Although Koike has previously urged the capital city’s 13.5 million residents to work from home, many continued to commute into their offices. CNN says Japan’s “notorious hard-work culture” makes it hard to convince people not to travel to their workplaces.
Abe has also announced that his government is preparing a $990 billion package to help Japan’s economy cope with the effects of the virus. The sum is equivalent to about 20% of the annual output of the world’s third biggest economy.
Meanwhile, there are growing fears that the economic downturn and record deflation triggered by the coronavirus outbreak may trigger the so-called “Japanification” of the eurozone.
The term is used as shorthand for the economic problems that crippled Japan after its asset bubble burst in 1990.