Japanese-style “lockdown”: pressure to comply, not sanctions for non-compliance


TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on the verge of declaring a state of emergency against the coronavirus, giving governors stronger legal authority to keep people at home and businesses to close, have media reported on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears a protective mask when attending an upper house parliamentary session, following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan, on April 1, 2020. REUTERS / Issei Kato

Unlike strict bans in some countries, imposing fines and arrests for non-compliance, enforcement will depend more on peer pressure and a deep-rooted Japanese tradition of respect for authority.

Here are the key points regarding the declaration.


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 huge impact on the economy. The state of emergency could last up to two years, with a possible extension of one year.

Abe has been under increasing pressure to report after a wave of viral infections in Tokyo and elsewhere. Restricting movements and businesses, however, would be a severe blow to an economy that was already struggling to cope with the virus epidemic.

“A balance of merits and demerits must be considered. There is no way that is 100% correct, “Nobuhiko Okabe, director general of the Kawasaki City Institute of Public Health and a member of an Abe advisory group, told Reuters.

Some other experts, however, said the decision would already be too late, as Tokyo was already experiencing an explosive increase in cases.


The governors of the hard-hit regions will have additional authority to tell people to stay at home, close schools and public facilities and ask businesses to close and cancel the events.

The law allows publication of the names of entities that do not conform, but does not allow the arrest or fine of persons.

The law also gives local authorities the power to direct the sale of essential supplies such as medicine and food and to request or order the emergency transport of certain goods.

The authorities can also expropriate land and buildings for medical facilities.

The government has designated certain industries such as utilities, transportation and the NHK public broadcaster as “designated public institutions” which may be required to disseminate information and necessities in an emergency.


Japan avoided more stringent enforcement, in part because of memories of civil rights violations during the Second World War, and the protection of these rights was enshrined in the post-war constitution drafted by United States.

“The Meiji (pre-war) Constitution 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 previously called for a revision of the charter which would include a strong emergency powers clause which critics say would violate human rights, but any such amendment would be controversial and take a lot of time.


Some governors have already asked residents to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds, and work at home. This had some effect, but less than many experts had deemed necessary.

Many residents of hotspot regions are likely to comply with the new demands.

“The Japanese state is deeply entrenched in society and has enormous power to mold by moral persuasion that Western states do not have,” said Sophia Koichi Nakano University professor.

Linda Sieg’s report; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.


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