Pre-emergency coronavirus measures applied to Fukushima for 1st time

The national government decided on Aug. 5 to apply a "man-en boshi" (prevention of the spread) package of pre-emergency measures to eight more prefectures, including Fukushima, faced with a fresh surge in infections of the new coronavirus disease. The decision, covering Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Aichi, Shiga and Kumamoto as well as Fukushima, was taken at a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters held at the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo. It was the first application of the package to Fukushima. In response, the prefectural government issued its own "state of emergency" later in the day after a meeting of officials concerned with the COVID-19 epidemic. Fukushima designated Iwaki city as a priority area covered by the package, urging all eating establishments there to refrain from providing alcoholic drinks all day. It also decided to take measures focused on requests for all eating houses offering alcohol beverages elsewhere to shorten business hours and for all prefectural residents to avoid unnecessary outings. The new measures, effective Aug. 8, will be in place until Aug. 31. The package, already applied to the five prefectures of Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, has been expanded to cover a total of 13 prefectures. In the latest reporting week of July 29 to Aug. 4, nationwide new COVID-19 cases were 1.96 times the level of the previous week, and the number of serious cases doubled to 823 as of Aug. 4 from mid-July. The decision to apply the package is based on the realities of a seriously worsening workload on the healthcare system in Fukushima and the northern Kanto part of the Tokyo metropolitan region, including a shift in the bed occupancy ratio from stage 3 (infected cases rising rapidly) to stage 4 (explosive growth in infections). Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed a strong sense of crisis, saying the country is "going through an unprecedented expansion of infections." In Fukushima Prefecture, the number of new cases per population of 100,000 reached 87.00 in the latest reporting week in Iwaki city, well over the stage 4 standard of 25, and stood at around that level in Koriyama city, 33.75, and Fukushima city, 26.16. The figure for all municipalities in Fukushima, excluding the three cities, has been on the rise since late July, standing at the stage 3 level of 17.39. The Fukushima government issued the same state of emergency as in May in the belief that action was needed to contain the swelling infections in the entire prefecture in the light of the bed occupancy ratio of close to 80%, well above the stage 4 standard of "50% or more," and other factors. In the priority area of Iwaki, the prefecture is urging citizens to refrain from using karaoke facilities in addition to the whole-day voluntary ban on the provision of alcoholic drinks. The request to shorten business hours from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. covers all eateries, irrespective of whether alcoholic beverages are being offered. It was expanded to movie theaters, shopping malls and other guest-collecting facilities. Business operators not complying with the request are subject to an administrative penalty of up to 200,000 yen. The prefectural government expanded the coverage of concentrated measures, applied so far to the three cities of Fukushima, Koriyama and Iwaki, to all 58 municipalities except for Iwaki. The measures call for residents to avoid non-essential outings and for alcohol-providing eating places to shorten their business hours. Shops observing the proposed restrictions are provided with cooperation money set in accordance with sales and other factors. A flat one-off amount of 200,000 yen will be granted to small and medium-size companies in the prefecture that saw a sales decline of 30% or more in August from the same month in 2020 or 2019 due to the outing self-restraint and shorter business hours. "The increasingly stringent availability of hospital beds in the prefecture has already impacted ordinary healthcare and emergency medical services," Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori told reporters after the meeting. "There is a possibility of the epidemic spreading further rapidly with the delta variant becoming pervasive. It is indispensable to reduce human-to-human contact throughout the prefecture." ※"Man-en boshi" and state of emergency Both are based on a revised special law providing for response to the novel coronavirus. The "man-en boshi" package of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 makes it possible to take steps equivalent to those under a state of emergency. In applying the package, the prime minister, acting on expert advice, specifies geographical areas covered, on a prefectural basis, and the term of application. The governor of a designated prefecture is authorized to focus application areas on specific municipalities and to request or order eating establishments and other facilities to shorten business hours. The governor may impose a penalty of 200,000 yen or less on those not complying with an order. The state of emergency is issued when the spread of infections is deemed to be threatening and having a serious effect on people's livelihood and economic activity. (Translated by Kyodo News)