Japan to declare virus emergency, launch stimulus of almost $1tr: PM - GulfToday

Japan to declare virus emergency, launch stimulus of almost $1tr: PM


People listen to Shinzo Abe’s television address at the prime minister’s official residence in Osaka on Monday. Associated Press

Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to contain the coronavirus, while the government prepares a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.

Domestic infections topped 4,000, Jiji news reported, and 93 have died - not a huge outbreak compared with some global hot spots. But the numbers keep rising, with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases including 83 new ones on Monday.

“Japan won’t, and doesn’t need, to take lockdown steps like those overseas,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, citing the opinion of infectious disease experts. “Trains will be running and supermarkets will be open. The state of emergency will allow us to strengthen current steps to prevent an increase in infections while ensuring that economic activity is sustained as much as possible,” he said.

An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close. With no penalties for ignoring the requests in most cases, enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority, and was unlikely to be as rigorous as lockdowns in many other countries.

In a sign that corporate Japan already was heeding the call, Canon Inc. announced it would close its Tokyo headquarters for 10 days starting from Tuesday.

Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.

Abe also said the government will launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.

It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.

An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80% of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12% said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2%, the survey showed.

But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.

“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.

Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.

Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.

While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.

Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favour a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.

The emergency measures are meant to reduce social activity by 80%, a critical degree to curtail infections, said Koji Wada, a member of the expert panel advising policymakers. The government must show “guts” in levelling with the public, with Abe being specific in his declaration about how people should conduct daily life.

“It really depends on the speech by Prime Minister Abe,” said Wada, a professor at International University of Health and Welfare in Tokyo. “I really expect him to tell us what kind of activities we should do.”

Meanwhile, the US dollar stalled against most currencies on Monday but continued its rise versus the Japanese yen as the rate of deaths from coronavirus in Europe slowed while deaths in Japan and elsewhere in Asia accelerated.

The yen fell, while the Australian and New Zealand dollars, which tend to benefit from sharper risk appetite, rose.

“The FX implication is yen weakness as Japan’s virus situation worsens and equities bounce,” said Kit Juckes, Societe Generale’s macro strategist.

The dollar rose 0.5% to 109 yen, after rising to a 10-day high of 109.38 earlier. The Australian dollar rose 1.3% at 0.6071 per U.S. dollar.

The euro was neutral versus the U.S. currency at 1.0805 . An index that tracks the dollar against six major currencies was also flat at 100.68.


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