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Japan moves closer towards punishing violators of anti-virus measures
From:Xinhua  |  2021-02-01 21:05

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TOKYO, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Japan's lower house of parliament on Monday approved bills making it possible for the government to impose fines on people and businesses thwarting requests to follow the country's measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Initial plans to introduce prison sentences for COVID-19 patients in Japan refusing to be hospitalized were abandoned last week by ruling and main opposition parties following criticism that the punishment was too severe.

The ditched plans involved making legal revisions to an existing law that would have made it possible for prison sentences of up to one year or a fine of up to 1 million yen (9,529 U.S. dollars) to be handed down to COVID-19 patients refusing hospitalization.

Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, conceded that divisions over the criminal punishments existed within the ruling party.

Main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) chief Yukio Edano who had been campaigning for the penalties to be scrapped hailed the decision, stating at a party meeting that "We took a big step forward."

Under a new agreement between the ruling and main opposition party, COVID-19 patients who refuse hospitalization could soon face fines of up to 500,000 yen, while those who do not comply with health officials' surveys could be fined up to 300,000 yen.

Previous plans were to also introduce fines of up to 500,000 yen for businesses that refuse to shorten their opening hours and close earlier under a state of emergency, and up to 300,000 yen for businesses not under a state of emergency but where anti-virus requests have been made by local prefectures.

The fines have now been lowered to 300,000 yen and 200,000 yen respectively.

The lowered fines along with the other revisions to the infectious disease law and the coronavirus special measures law will be enacted by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday after having passed the lower house on Monday.

Under the state of emergency that is now set to be extended, according to informed sources and local media Monday evening, restaurants and bars have been asked to close by 8:00 p.m. local time and people asked to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors, especially in the evenings.

The government has also urged people to work from home and large events have seen their attendance capacity capped.

Japan, while seeing a downtrend in COVID-19 cases recently, is still grappling to bring the virus' spread under control.

On Monday, 1,792 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the country, bringing the nation's total tally of cases to 392,475.

The country's death toll has now risen to a total of 5,846 people, according to the latest statistics Monday evening.

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Monday, for its part, reported 393 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the capital, with the city's cumulative total of infections rising to 100,234.

The daily tally dropped below the 500-mark for the first time since Dec. 28, with the most recent figure below 400 being reported on Dec. 21.

Health officials in the capital of 14 million said that 133 hospitalized patients are designated as being in a "serious condition." This is seven less than was reported by the metropolitan government the previous day.

Novel coronavirus-related deaths in the capital have now risen to 894, the health ministry said Monday.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato warned however that despite cases in the capital being on a downtrend recently, it was too early for people to lower their guards.

"We should be wary of the declining trend," Kato, the government's top spokesperson said.

"Although new cases have been on a downward trend since last week, we believe that it is still necessary to be vigilant," Kato told a press briefing Monday. (1 U.S. dollar equals 104.93 Japanese yen) Enditem