Revised law to give expansive powers in stated emergencies
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Should the prime minister declare an emergency, it would give prefectural governors significant powers to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, including the ability to restrict individual rights.
Should the prime minister declare an emergency following a revision of the special measures law, it would give prefectural governors significant powers to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, including the ability to restrict individual rights.
Some are calling for certain safeguards to be placed on emergency declarations, while other countries have already moved to restrict private rights.
2 requirements for declaration
In a liaison meeting between the government and the ruling parties held Tuesday at the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the revision is designed to “prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
A draft amendment states that an emergency can only be declared if two requirements are met.
These are (1) the possibility of serious damage to the lives and health of the people, and (2) the possibility that rapid or nationwide spread of the disease could significantly impact people’s livelihoods and the economy.
An enforcement ordinance for the law describes these two requirements in more detail. The first requirement refers to when “the incidence of pneumonia and other conditions is considerably higher than that of seasonal influenza.” The second assumes that “infection routes cannot be identified or patients are taking actions that could spread the epidemic.”
Regular influenza referred to in the first requirement involves a high fever of at least 38 C and symptoms such as headache, joint pain and muscle pain.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases estimates that 10-15 million people contract influenza in a normal year, with a fatality rate of about 0.1% They usually recover in about a week, but elderly patients may develop pneumonia and infants can progress to acute encephalopathy.
Could an emergency declaration be applicable in the current situation?
At a press conference Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “We are not in a situation where a declaration would be issued,” adding that the government would continue to carefully monitor the situation.
Consultation is 1st hurdle
Even if a prime minister begins to consider an emergency declaration, there are hurdles.
First, a “basic policy advisory board” established based on the special measures law would need to be consulted to determine if the two requirements are met.
This board would be made up of infectious disease experts, mostly those who are serving on the expert panel established on Feb. 14 to address the new coronavirus.
If the board determines the requirements are met, the prime minister could declare an emergency for a certain period of time or covering a certain area.
Based on the declaration, governors could ask that people refrain from going out, as well as request or order restrictions on the use of schools, sports facilities and other places.
Land and buildings could also be used to provide medical care without the consent of the owners.
The amendment would also allow for the expropriation of medical goods, which would be a restriction of private rights.
Request for careful explanation
Some are extremely wary of granting such powers.
On Tuesday, the lead directors from the ruling and opposition parties on the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee that are considering the amendment reached a basic agreement on a supplementary resolution that would require the prime minister to report to the Diet before declaring an emergency, unless it is a critical situation in which time is of the essence.
National Governor’s Association President and Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi met with Abe on Tuesday at the Prime Minister’s Office. He asked Abe to “provide the people with careful explanations on the law’s content and its necessity.”
Since the spread of the virus has worsened, Abe has made a series of political decisions including the request to close all schools and restricting entry from China and South Korea.
If the spread of infection cannot be stopped, it would inevitably impact the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which Abe worked hard to attract.
According to one senior government official, “The prime minister may be considering issuing an emergency declaration” for Hokkaido, which has the largest number of infections in the country.