Japan prepares legislation to punish those breaking COVID-19 rules
Published: Jan 16, 2021 10:21 AM

People visit shops to purchase food and supplies to celebrate the New Year in Tokyo’s shopping district Ueno on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Japan is preparing legislation making it possible to punish people who do not comply with the government's measures to combat COVID-19, with the penalties possibly including hefty fines and even prison sentences.

A meeting was held on Friday by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare where a revision to the infectious disease law was discussed that would make it possible to penalize people testing positive for COVID-19 but refusing hospitalization.

People who don't cooperate with the ministry's contact tracing efforts could also face hefty fines or prison terms.

The majority of those in attendance at the meeting, sources close to the matter said, were in support of revising the current law to enable the penalties, which in the case of those refusing to be hospitalized could see fines levied to the tune of 1 million yen (9,600 U.S. dollars) or face a prison sentence of up to one year.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has approached both ruling and opposition parties with the proposed revision prior to it being formally submitted in the regular Diet session starting next week.

Also under the proposed revision to the infectious disease law, those refusing to provide information to health authorities on infection routes could be fined 500,000 yen or face up to six months in jail. The penalties would also be applicable to people providing false information to authorities.

Amid a surge in virus cases, the Japanese government on Wednesday expanded its state of emergency to combat the third wave of infections to cover 11 prefectures nationwide.

These include Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Aichi, Gifu, Fukuoka and Tochigi, in addition to Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures that were declared a week ago.

With more patients requiring hospitalization, beds are quickly reaching capacity leading to rising concerns about the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed.

Those that do not comply with the recommendations could also be "named and shamed" under the proposed revision.

The special measures law on the coronavirus may also be revised to enable the government to fine businesses that fail to comply with its requests to shorten their opening hours or shutter their businesses temporarily.

Such businesses in prefectures under a state of emergency could be fined up to 500,000 yen, while those in places where anti-virus measures are being implemented could be slapped with fines of up to 300,000 yen, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said. (1 USD equals 104 Japanese Yen)