Japan toughens COVID-19 measures with new law

TOKYO: Japan passed a new law strengthening enforcement of its virus restrictions on Wednesday (Feb 3), allowing authorities to fine bars and restaurants that defy closure requests.

People can also be fined up to 500,000 yen (US$4,800) if they test positive for COVID-19 but refuse hospitalisation, although lawmakers scrapped plans to introduce prison sentences as punishment.

With just six months until the pandemic-postponed Summer Olympics, Tokyo and other regions are currently under a state of emergency following a record surge in coronavirus infections.

But unlike strict lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, Japan’s emergency measures – which urge businesses to close early and people to work from home – have had no means of enforcement until now.

READ: Japan extends COVID-19 state of emergency, months before delayed Olympics

READ: Wear a face mask, and no singing or chanting, say Tokyo Olympics organisers

Parliament passed the Bill the day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga approved an extension of the state of emergency until Mar 7.

The law will come into force after around 10 days to allow people to get used to it, local media reported.

Bars and restaurants in areas under the emergency have been asked to close by 8pm. If they flout the measure, they can now be fined up to 300,000 yen.

Despite the recent spike, Japan has seen a comparatively small COVID-19 outbreak, with around 5,800 deaths overall.

But doctors warn that hospitals are overwhelmed in the hardest-hit areas, partly because private hospitals can refuse to accept COVID-19 patients.

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