July 3, 2020 / 2:50 AM / a month ago

No new state of emergency as nightlife drives Tokyo's coronavirus spread

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will not reintroduce a state of emergency to tackle the novel coronavirus, a government spokesman said on Friday, as cases in Tokyo rose to a two-month high driven by the spread of the virus in the capital’s night spots.

FILE PHOTO: Passersby walk on the crossing during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Shinjuku district in Tokyo, Japan June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Tokyo reported 124 new cases on Friday, up from 107 the day before, partly due to increased testing among nightlife workers in the Shinjuku and Ikebukuro districts.

Of all new infections confirmed in Tokyo in the week through Wednesday, 44% were traced to establishments where “food and drinks are provided along with company”, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said — an oblique reference to spots such as “host bars” where male hosts are paid to flirt with female patrons over drinks.

But despite the spike, the number of serious cases is declining and there was no need to reinstate the state of emergency that was lifted on May 25, Suga said.

Japan’s infection rates remain far below many other countries but the rising number of cases and the possibility of renewed restrictions have put authorities and businesses on edge.

Tokyo is on amber alert, the third most severe in a four rank scale. Its medical facilities are ranked at the lesser yellow level, indicating they are not in immediate risk of being overwhelmed.

“We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining daily life,” said Governor Yuriko Koike, Tokyo’s first female governor who is expected to win a second term in an election on Sunday after a campaign dominated by the pandemic.

Preventive measures have already pushed Japan’s economy into a recession in the first quarter, with a deeper contraction expected in the April-June quarter.

The state of emergency gave governors of Japan’s 47 prefectures stronger legal authority to urge people to stay home and businesses to close, but there were no fines or arrests for non-compliance.

The government is considering revising the law to strengthen enforcement of lockdown requests, Jiji news agency reported, adding that it would aim to submit a bill before or during the ordinary session of parliament next year.

Reporting by Sam Nussey, Ritsuko Ando and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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