Coronavirus: Tokyo to extent state of emergency

A second wave of infections is feared. Hospitals are operating beyond their capacity. For experts, systematic testing is needed to contain the outbreak. In Tokyo, only 11,000 people have been tested. Unemployment is rising, but the worst is yet to come.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese policy-makers are considering extending the state of emergency, originally set to end on 6 May, in order to curb the coronavirus pandemic. They fear that premature easing of restrictions could cause a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

According to Japan’s Health Ministry, the number of infections is down, with the infection rate falling from 12 per cent on 7 April to 1.5 per cent on 26 April. Overall, the country’s health authorities have confirmed 14,088 cases with 415 deaths.

Despite improving numbers, three conditions must be met for the government not to extend the state of emergency; they are: a drastic decrease in the number of infections, a reduction in human contacts by 80 per cent, and the guarantee that hospitals can adequately treat the sick.

The third condition is the most worrisome since hospitals have been working beyond their capacity since the start of the crisis. They have also been the main source of contagion. The Eiju General Hospital for example accounts for almost a third of all deaths in Tokyo, with more and more members of its medical staff becoming infected.

For a more accurate picture of the situation, and to encourage the containment of the outbreak, experts have called on the government to carry out large-scale diagnostic testing like in South Korea and Taiwan.

So far, Japanese health authorities have focused primarily on patients with obvious symptoms of contagion or on clusters of infections.

Since February for example, only 11,000 people have been tested in Tokyo, a city of more than 9 million people. Of these, 4,000 resulted positive, a very high rate.

Unlike China or other countries, especially in the West, Japan did not impose a full lockdown, but the effects of social confinement and economic restrictions are beginning to be felt in the population.

In March, the unemployment rate rose to 2.5 per cent, the highest level in the past year; factory output decreased by 3.7 per cent over the previous month whilst retail sales slumped by 4.6 per cent from a year earlier.

And numbers are bound to get worse as the country-wide state of emergency was declared only on 16 April. The International Monetary Fund expects Japan’s gross domestic product to drop by 5.2 per cent in 2020.

In its reaction to the crisis, the Japanese government approved a ¥117 trillion economic stimulus (US.1 trillion), which should push up real GDP by 4.4 per cent.