Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday promised an unprecedented package of measures to protect the world's third largest economy from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the country was close to a national emergency due to infections.
Abe said the "huge and powerful" measures will include fiscal stimulus, monetary measures and tax incentives for companies, although the details have not been finalized.
“We are in a critical phase. We need to be ready for a long-term battle, "said Abe at a news conference on national television, adding," I want to be straightforward about this ".
Infections in Japan rose to more than 1.500, with 52 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Authorities confirmed 63 more cases in Tokyo and on Saturday announced 57 new cases of coronavirus at a center for the disabled in Chiba prefecture, near the capital, NHK reported.
Hit early by the coronavirus in its initial spread from China, Japan had seen a more gradual increase than the recent increase in much of Europe and the United States, which led to the blockade of billions of people worldwide.
Abe avoided declaring a state of emergency, although he announced plans to approve the Avigan drug, which has proved useful in treatment.
"The pandemic is doing extremely great damage to Japan's economy," he said. "We are going to deploy a huge and powerful package that will include a full range of fiscal, monetary and fiscal measures."
The size of the package will exceed that compiled in response to the 2008 global financial crisis, which totaled 57 trillion yen ($ 528 billion), Abe said.
The government will draft a supplementary budget within ten days and try to take it to parliament as soon as possible, he said.
Part of the measures will include agreements for "small and medium-sized companies to lend zero interest from private financial institutions," he said.
"We will also create a new scheme to offer cash payments," he added, saying that it would target the families and businesses that need it most.
Quarantine in Tokyo
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike made an appeal after a wave of coronavirus infections this week, which she said put Tokyo on the brink of an emergency.
She asked tens of millions of people in the city and in the surrounding regions to avoid non-essential and non-urgent tours until April 12, especially this weekend.
This week, Abe called the situation a “national crisis”. People in the Osaka area of western Japan were also invited to stay at home.
Although the current level of infection appears low for a city of almost 14 million inhabitants, with many millions living in neighboring suburbs, experts warn that there is a high risk that the number of cases may increase, as authorities have failed to track everyone the contacts of more than half of the most recent cases.
Tokyo reported yet another victim on Saturday, marking a total of 7 deaths in the region.
At the news conference, Abe rejected claims that Japan was hiding the true number of cases.
The government has sent military personnel to Tokyo's largest airports in Narita and Haneda to help screen for viruses and transport people quarantined, NHK said.
It calls for people to stay at home voluntarily comparing themselves to more stringent blockages in Italy, Britain, France, Spain and the United States - the new global epicenter of the virus.
Globally, infections reached half a million, with more than 20.000 deaths, with contagion affecting more than 100 countries.
Abe is expected to order economic measures, including $ 135 billion or more in spending, say government officials and lawmakers, joining policymakers globally trying to prevent a crisis.
In a quiet neighborhood near the prime minister's private residence in central Tokyo, the scene was typical of a Saturday morning. Some people were running and walking their dogs. Some stopped to pray at a local sanctuary.
"I'm a little worried, but I have an appointment today, which is why I'm outside," said a 41-year-old man walking down the street, who declined to be identified.
“It is not something I cannot cancel, but I need to meet someone. I will take the train later.
Some department stores, cinemas, museums and parks have closed, but many supermarkets and convenience stores were open as usual.
In Setagaya, a popular residential area in western Tokyo, many restaurants and shops were closed, although those that were open were doing good business, including an Italian restaurant full of young families and older couples.
Nearby, workers worked on the construction site as if it were a normal day.
Source: Reuters // Image credits: REUTERS / Issei Kato