Japan lockdown undermined by impasse over shop and restaurant closures – Financial Times

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The city of Tokyo and Japan’s national government are arguing whether restaurants, hardware stores and even barbershops should be included on a list of businesses to close under a state of emergency declared this week.

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, wants a wide-ranging shutdown after a jump in the number of coronavirus cases in the city, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would like to keep the list as short as possible to protect the economy.

The stand-off risks confusing the Japanese public, with many cafés, restaurants and other facilities open as usual on Thursday, highlighting the challenges of Mr Abe’s plans to control Covid-19 without a full lockdown.

“Co-ordination with the national government is making progress, but we’ve realised we need to clarify what the government’s new policy means,” said Ms Koike. “Either way, whether a shop can open or not, we need to make it clear quickly or else it’s a big problem for the businesses.”

Mr Abe declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, granting the governors of seven urban prefectures — including Tokyo and its suburbs — the power to request business closures to increase social distancing and reduce the spread of coronavirus. Japan now has 4,667 cases of Covid-19, with 1,338 in Tokyo.

But no sooner had Mr Abe’s government declared the state of emergency than it started pressing prefectures not to use the powers too zealously.

Ms Koike’s initial list for closure was expected to include all commercial facilities larger than 100 square metres, including gyms, theatres, cinemas, cram schools, karaoke boxes, museums, libraries, shopping centres, bars and nightclubs. It would exclude supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, hotels, factories and railways. 

The national government wants a wider list of exemptions, specifically including barbershops and DIY stores, which it said were essential to daily life.

Nana Ogihara, executive vice-president at Kinoshita Gaien East Street, a chain of barbershops, said she had not been given any instructions but hoped the business could stay open.

“It’s not just beauty — barbershops were originally regarded as necessary for public health,” she added.

A longstanding political rivalry between Mr Abe and Ms Koike compounds the tension between Tokyo and the national government. Ms Koike, a former member of Mr Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic party, started a shortlived political movement to challenge him at the last national election in 2017. 

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Takao Toshikawa, editor of the political newsletter Tokyo Insideline, said that while Ms Koike’s main concern was the rising number of Covid-19 cases within the city — and thus the perceived effectiveness of her administration — Mr Abe wanted to avoid the cost of a nationwide economic shutdown.

“Ms Koike faces a gubernatorial election in July and next year there’s an election to the city assembly, so she has both political and practical reasons to want to stop Covid-19 as fast as possible,” said Mr Toshikawa.

Mr Abe, by contrast, is expected to stand down within the next few years and wants to protect his legacy.

The PM’s problems extend beyond Tokyo. The governor of Aichi prefecture, home to Toyota and much of the Japanese automotive industry, said he would declare his own state of emergency on Friday and demanded that his prefecture be added to the national list.

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Source: Thanks https://www.ft.com/content/ba8543f9-7e15-45ef-90c9-12c2d16bd8ea