Abe vows tougher action against COVID-19 as govt announces fresh measures

Tokyo, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Japan’s prime minister said Wednesday he will take stricter measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus epidemic in the country if infections continue, but for now ruled out declaring a state of emergency.

Japanese authorities also announced that they will ask all travelers coming from abroad to undergo a two-week quarantine, apart from extending the entry ban for citizens or foreigners coming from COVID-19 affected regions to 49 more countries, with both measures set to come into effect on Friday.

Speaking in the Parliament during a session to discuss the epidemic’s impact in Japan, Shinzo Abe promised tougher actions if cases continued to rise but ruled out declaring an emergency, which would give the central and regional governments more powers to contain the spread of the virus.

The health and safety of citizens was the priority, he said, adding that next week he will hold a new meeting with a panel of medical experts.

Opposition voices, medical experts and some local governments have called for the prompt application of the emergency law, which among other things would allow authorities to restrict citizens’ freedom of movement, given the continued spread of the virus in Japan.

As a part of the fresh quarantine measures, which are not legally binding, Japanese people entering the country can self-isolate in their homes will foreigners will be able to do so in hotels, state broadcaster NHK reported

The entry ban which prohibits the arrival of citizens and foreigners that have visited the relevant regions during the 14-days prior to the travel, now covers 73 countries – more than a third of the world – with the addition of countries like the US, Canada, South Korea, China, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Panama, Brazil, Bolivia, the United Kingdom and Greece.

The decisions were made in a meeting of special coronavirus taskforce, and come days after an entry ban was first enforced on travelers from 49 other countries, including Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Australia and Iran.

At least 2,235 infections of the new coronavirus have been registered in Japan so far, apart from more than 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, according to the most recent data from the authorities.

An increase in cases has been detected in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area in recent days, which reported 78 new infections during the last 24 hours and accounts for more than a quarter of all cases in Japan.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has called on residents of the capital to stay at home and to avoid crowds, and has pointed to the possibility of putting the city in isolation if necessary.

As part of medical efforts to deal with the COVID-19, Japanese pharmaceutical company Fujifilm Toyama Chemical has begun clinical trials of experimental antiviral drug favipiravir for its symptoms, NHK reported Wednesday.

Although doctors in Japan had already been researching the drug’s properties to prevent the duplication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a clinical trial by the company – which is expected to continue until June – is required to obtain approval for large-scale use.

Favipiravir, known in Japan under the brand name Avigan, has been in use since 2014 for treating virus strains for which other antivirals have proved ineffective, but is not sold publicly due to serious side effects.

Italy has already approved the experimental use of the drug, which came into limelight after researchers from the Chinese city of Wuhan – where the disease originated – suggested it could be effective in treating COVID-19.

The Japanese government is also “closely analyzing” the impact that the pandemic is having on the national economy, Abe said Wednesday.

The Bank of Japan on Wednesday published its quarterly report, which showed a further drop in business confidence in March compared to December, representing its fifth consecutive quarterly decline.

It is the biggest drop in the indicator since the 2008 global financial crisis, as well as the first time that the confidence of large companies has been at a negative level (-8 points) since 2013.

Meanwhile, Japanese firm Subaru on Wednesday followed other local carmakers such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda by suspending vehicle production in its two major factories, located in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo and Lafayette, Indiana, US.

Subaru reported that this suspension in its operations is linked to disruptions in the supply chain and meant to adjust production volumes in the face of rapidly declining demand worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic. EFE-EPA

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