'Blocking', Japanese style: pressure to comply, no penalties for non-compliance

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is about to declare a state of emergency over it, giving governors a stronger legal authority to urge people to stay home and close businesses.

Unlike strict blockades in some countries, which impose fines and arrests for noncompliance, enforcement will depend more on peer pressure and a deep-rooted Japanese tradition of respect for authority.

Below are the key points regarding the statement:

BECAUSE RIGHT NOW?

Under a law revised in March, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a serious danger to life and if its rapid spread could have a major impact on the economy. The state of emergency could last up to two years, with a possible extension of one year.

Abe has come under increasing pressure to make the statement after an increase in cases of virus infection in Tokyo and elsewhere. However, restricting movement and business would deal a severe blow to an economy that is already struggling to cope with the virus outbreak.

A balance of merit and demerit should be considered, Nobuhiko Okabe, director general of the Kawasaki City Institute of Public Health and a member of an expert panel advising Abe, told Reuters.

However, some other experts said the move was already too late, as Tokyo was already seeing an explosive increase in cases.

WHO RECEIVES WHAT POWERS?

Governors in the worst-affected regions will have more authority to tell people to stay home, close schools and public facilities, and ask companies to close and cancel events.

Governors may request facilities or businesses used by large numbers of people to limit use or closure. If they refuse without an acceptable reason, facilities may be directed to do so and the instruction will be made public.

Businesses that will be asked to close in Tokyo include department stores, cinemas, shopping malls, nightclubs, lounges and game centers, the Asahi newspaper said.

The law also gives local authorities the power to direct the sale of essential supplies, such as medicines and food, and to request or order the emergency transportation of specific goods.

Authorities can also expropriate land and buildings for medical facilities.

The government has designated certain industries as utilities, transportation, and NHK public broadcaster as designated public institutions that may be required to disseminate information and needs in an emergency.

WHY ARE POWERS LIMITED?

Japan has shied away from the stricter enforcement steps in part due to memories of civil rights abuses during World War II, and the protection of such rights was enshrined in the post-war constitution drafted by the United States.

The (before the war) had such powers and there were abuses, said lawyer Koju Nagai. The current constitution is based on the idea that human rights must be respected.

Abe's ruling party had previously called for a revision of the letter that would include a strong emergency powers clause that critics say would violate human rights, but any amendment would be controversial and time-consuming.

How effective?

Some governors have already asked residents to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds, and work at home. That had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was necessary.

Many residents of regions with access points are likely to comply with new requests.

The Japanese state is deeply embedded in society and has tremendous power to shape through moral persuasion that western states don't have, said professor at Sophia University.

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