Tokyo seeks virus-related fine for restaurants as Osaka considers tougher measures

As the country prepares for a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, Osaka Prefecture plans to ask the central government to designate the prefecture as an area requiring stricter anti-virus measures, while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government initiated legal proceedings to impose fines. restaurants that failed to comply with an early closing order.

Osaka is believed to be the first in the country to seek binding pre-emergency measures against the coronavirus on the basis of a revised law that came into effect in February, which includes fines for businesses that do not comply with restrictions on opening hours.

“Looking at how fast the virus is spreading, cases will most likely increase this week,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said Monday, adding he would make a formal decision in a few days. “We’ve entered the fourth wave now.”

Yoshimura said anti-virus measures would include making mask-wearing mandatory for customers in catering establishments.

The central government plans to honor a request from Osaka if made, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

“The prime minister would make the final decision depending on the number of infections and the state of the medical system,” the government spokesman told a news conference.

Osaka confirmed 432 new cases on Tuesday, the first time the prefecture has reported more than 400 since Jan. 24. Osaka’s figure was higher than 364 confirmed in Tokyo on Tuesday. Over the past seven days, new cases in Osaka totaled 1,933, more than double the previous week.

“Osaka lifted its state of emergency (over the virus) earlier (than the Tokyo metropolitan area), so I think the rebound is also a factor in the high cases,” Yoshimura said.

Under the revised law, the central government can declare a situation that does not amount to a state of emergency but still requires strong measures to control the spread of the virus in specific areas smaller than an entire prefecture. Yoshimura is about to seek state designation of this situation.

The Western Prefecture decided last Friday to extend non-binding requests for food establishments in the city of Osaka to close at 9 p.m. for another three weeks until April 21, and to extend the measure to the entire prefecture from Thursday.

In Tokyo, four out of 32 catering establishments to which the metropolitan government issued the early closure order while the central government’s latest COVID-19 state of emergency was in place, were confirmed to have continued operations after 8 p.m.

Tokyo became the first local government in the country to issue an early closure order and also the first to initiate legal proceedings to fine violators, both based on the revised law.

“We have carefully followed the procedures to impose fines in accordance with the law,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters on Monday. “Now it’s up to the court to make a judgment.”

Under the revised law, prefectural governors are empowered to issue orders against companies that fail to comply with requests to reduce operating hours. Those who disobey these orders while a state of emergency is declared by the central government will be subject to fines of up to ¥300,000.

When the last state of emergency was declared in January, Tokyo asked food establishments to close at 8 p.m.

After the revised special law came into force the following month, the metropolitan government again asked 129 non-compliant establishments to shorten opening hours based on the revised law, which makes it possible to turn these requests into orders.

On March 18 and 19, the Tokyo government issued the early closure order for 32 restaurants that remained non-compliant. After that, four of them operated by four companies were confirmed to have failed to comply with the order.

Last week, restaurant chain Global-Dining Inc. sued the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in what would be Japan’s first lawsuit for damages over an early shutdown order. Of the restaurants run by the company, 26 in Tokyo received the order, shortening their opening hours afterward.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a month-long state of emergency in the Tokyo area on January 7, later extending it to a total of 11 prefectures, including Osaka, Aichi, Fukuoka, and extending it to most of between them until March 7.

The measure was extended for two weeks until March 21 for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures – Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama.

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