Fukushima Pref. issues state of emergency over coronavirus, urges residents to stay home

The Fukushima prefectural government issued its own "state of emergency declaration" for the whole prefecture on May 14 in the aftermath of the rapid expansion of the new coronavirus epidemic. The measure, the first of its kind in Fukushima, is effective from May 15 to 31. The local government urges all residents in the prefecture to avoid unnecessary outings, believing that the intensive anti-COVID-19 measures that had been taken in the cities of Aizuwakamatsu and Iwaki alone were insufficient to prevent the rapidly spreading infectious disease. Requests for shorter business hours at eating establishments offering alcoholic beverages, currently in place in the two cities, were expanded to those in all municipalities. The local government will pay a lump-sum to small and medium-size enterprises for revenue declines resulting from the eateries' shortened business hours and stay-at-home requests. Eateries are subject to a separate relief scheme. The latest emergency measures are the strictest that can be taken on the authority of the governor based on the revised anti-COVID-19 law. As of May 13, 86.8% of hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients in the prefecture were occupied, well over the standard of "50% or more" for stage 4, the most serious level of infections (an explosive rise in coronavirus cases). As there is a danger of people who have tested positive for the virus not immediately being hospitalized, the prefectural administration was forced to declare the emergency on its own without waiting for a response from the central government. The prefecture urges all business operators to reduce opportunities for going out by working from home and using online meetings. It also calls on universities and professional schools to abstain from high-risk behavior and activities, such as extracurricular activities and social gatherings involving many participants. Elementary, junior high and high schools have been asked to suspend any overnight school events as well as joint training or inter-school sports matches. Subject to business hour restrictions are wining and dining places involving entertainment such as snack bars, and eateries offering alcoholic drinks, including Japanese-style pubs, as well as karaoke and mahjong parlors. These establishments are requested to be closed between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. the next day and only serve alcohol beverages from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. A "sum for cooperation" will be paid to operators complying with such requests for shorter hours -- ranging between 25,000 and 75,000 yen per day for small and medium-sized operators and a maximum of 200,000 for major businesses -- in proportion to the sales decrease from a year before or two years earlier. Applications for payment will be accepted after the end of the emergency period. The lump-sum payment scheme designed to compensate revenue declines, details of which are still being worked out, is likely to cover operators doing business directly or indirectly with eateries. Among them are food and liquor shops, suppliers of disposable chopsticks and wet towels, farmers, fishermen, hotels and inns, tourist facilities, transport companies, and barbershops and beauty salons. A flat sum of 200,000 yen will be paid to those whose sales in May declined 30% or more from May 2020 or May 2019 -- a requirement that is easier than the one put in place under the emergency program for January-February, when a sales drop of at least 50% was required. Applications for the package are scheduled to be accepted from early June. Receiving relief payment from the central government will be allowed as well if eligible. Speaking to reporters after a COVID-19 task force meeting on May 14, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said the strain on hospital bed capacity "is going to exceed the limit in certain areas and at some medical institutions." He called for cooperation for the emergency action, saying: "We are faced with a critical situation now. We must put a brake on the spread of infections by all means by the end of May." As for conditions for lifting the emergency status, Uchibori referred to a decline in the bed occupancy ratio. "But we are not in a situation where we can show specific target figures as the epidemic has not calmed down yet," he said. (Translated by Kyodo News)