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Japan declares state of emergency in Tokyo area amid increase in COVID-19 cases

Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency Thursday for Tokyo and adjacent areas, trying to stem Covid-19 infections that hit a daily record in the capital.

The declaration covers the capital and the surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, Suga said, adding it will have an impact on the economy. It will be imposed from Friday until Feb. 7 and comes after the Japanese capital said it had found 2,447 cases of coronavirus Thursday, a record.

Japan’s emergency doesn’t imply the kind of lockdowns seen in some parts of Europe, and the government is seeking far less stringent measures than under its previous emergency last year, which triggered the worst economic contraction on record.

“The current wave of infections is worse than we had imagined, but we believe we can overcome it without fail,” Suga told a press conference. “To achieve that we have to ask you to accept restrictions on your lives.”

Residents will be requested to avoid going out after 8:00 p.m. and bars and restaurants will be instructed to close at that time. Authorities can’t enforce compliance for now, though Suga is seeking to amend the law to add penalties for businesses that don’t abide by government measures, and formalize incentives for those that do. The government will press for a return to remote work, aiming to cut the number of commuters in the region by 70%.

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Suga announced subsidies of up to 1.8 million yen ($17,400) a month for eateries that comply with rules on shortened hours.

Ballooning infections have been a blow for Suga, who had sought to restore growth despite the pandemic, including by offering domestic travel incentives to bolster the tourism industry. His public support has slumped, with polls showing most voters favor tougher pandemic measures.

The restrictions on activities are likely to hamper the effectiveness of the economic stimulus package Suga put together last month, which is to be funded by an extra budget. The package is no longer suitable in the current environment, Nomura Research Institute economist Takahide Kiuchi said in a research note.

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