Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2020

Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

  • More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died
  • Numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases

TOKYO: Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to try to stop the coronavirus, the prime minister said, with the government preparing a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.
More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died — not a huge outbreak compared with some hot spots. But the numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases, including 83 new ones on Monday.
“Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but will not be as restrictive as lockdowns in some other countries.
In most cases, there will be no penalties for ignoring requests to stay at home, and enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.
Abe also said the government has decided to launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.
It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.
“The government wants to help businesses continue and protect jobs,” Abe said.
An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80 percent of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12 percent said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2 percent, the survey showed.
But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favor a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.
An expert on the government’s coronavirus panel said Japan could avoid an explosive rise by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent.
Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura called for calm saying there was no need for people in designated prefectures to flee to other regions, which could spread infections, NHK reported.
While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.
Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.
Governors in Tokyo and elsewhere have asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. That has had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was needed.


Italy’s first Islamic burial place planned for Rome

Updated 6 min 11 sec ago

Italy’s first Islamic burial place planned for Rome

  • ‘Garden of Peace’ project seeks crowdfunding from country’s 2.6m Muslims
  • An architect has prepared blueprints, featuring palm trees, fountains and obelisks amid a serene burial place

ROME: Italy’s first Islamic cemetery may soon be built on a green space in Tragliatella, a few kilometers north of Rome.

The burial place — to be built on a 400 hectare area near the border between Fiumicino, close to the international airport, and the city of Bracciano —  will be the first cemetery dedicated to Muslims in a country where Islam is the second-largest religion.

Bachcu Dhuumcatu, president of the Dhuumcatu Bengali community association in Rome, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the cemetery could hold up to 16,000 plots.

“We will call it the ‘Garden of Peace’,” he said.

“The cemetery will allow second and third-generation Muslims living in Italy to avoid going through what we are forced to, facing a situation that became even more difficult with the coronavirus pandemic.”

The site of the proposed cemetery is valued at €7 million ($7.8 million) and is yet to be purchased. However, an architect has already prepared blueprints for the project, featuring palm trees, fountains and obelisks amid a serene burial place.

A Qur’anic school, sports center and space for halal slaughter have also been proposed for the site.

Finding a suitable location for the Islamic cemetery has been far from easy, however.

“At the beginning we had intensive talks with the Rome City Council, but we could not find (an agreement) on a possible location,” Dhuumcatu said.

Rome’s Municipal Cimitero is one of only 58 cemeteries in Italy available for Islamic burials. However, it is too small to meet demand and all its spaces are full.

If the Tragliatella project gets the green light, the new Islamic cemetery will provide a solution for the central Italian region, home to large numbers of Muslims.

“We had looked for a space in Guidonia, another large town not far from Rome. But even there we could not find a suitable place for our cemetery,” Dhuumcatu said.

“We finally came to the Tragliatella option a few months ago. We were about to start talks with the Fiumicino authorities, but the coronavirus emergency began and the discussions had to stop,” he said.

Under Italian law, the land must be bought by the Islamic community and then donated to the Fiumicino municipality as part of an agreement that allows it to be transformed into a cemetery.

“If we succeed, we can finally be buried facing Makkah and with the coffin carried by eight people — all things that have not always been guaranteed to us so far,” Dhuumcatu said.

Only 58 of Italy’s 8,000 municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims inside their cemeteries.

However, even when space is available, it is limited and often fails to meet demand, which increased dramatically in the first half of 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The result was a shortage of Muslim burial spots.

Rome’s Bengali association, with about 35,000 members, has appealed for crowdfunding from all 2.6 million Muslims living in Italy since it wants the cemetery to be open to all nationalities.

“The first donations are coming in. We will make it,” Dhuumcatu said.

However, Italy’s right-wing League party has voiced its opposition to the Tragliatella project.

“Muslims try to use cemeteries to establish their customs in areas without consulting the local population. We are against this,” said Sen. William De Vecchis.

Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari and president of the National Association of Italian Communes, told Arab News: “I fully understand the cemetery’s appeal to Muslim citizens. I think the time has come to find solutions.”