TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Japan's lower house of parliament on Wednesday passed a special bill to enable better provisions to be made to combat the COVID-19 outbreak and empowering Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency if necessary as the number of pneumonia-causing infections continue to rise.
The bill was approved Wednesday by a majority vote from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its Komeito coalition ally, as well as opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party, Democratic Party for the People and the Japan Innovation Party, among others.
The passage of the bill through the lower house on Wednesday paves the way for the bill to be put to the vote in the upper house of Japan's bicameral parliament on Thursday, where it is expected to be passed as the LDP-led coalition holds a majority in both chambers.
The bill, which will be effective for a period of up to two years, is a revision of an existing law on novel influenza and has been made applicable to COVID-19.
It will be valid until February 2022 as COVID-19 was officially classified as a designated infectious disease in Japan in February.
Under the new amended law, the government would have extended powers once a state of emergency has been declared by Abe for particular parts of the country.
Such powers include regional governments being authorized to instruct local people to stay at home, issue closures to schools and restrict the use of locations that facilitate large groups of people gathering together or cancel large scale events all together.
Local governments will also have the authority to demand that supplies deemed essential to combating the spread of COVID-19 be sold to them or requisitioned, and regional authorities will also be able to temporarily commandeer private land or facilities for the purposes of providing medical care.
Under the current law, the prime minister does not have the legal grounds to forcibly close schools or cancel events, although the Japanese prime minister has requested such measures to be taken.
As the new law could be deemed as restricting some of the rights of citizens, opposition parties have been concerned that checks and balances be maintained to ensure citizens' freedom as much as possible.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, to this end, are of the opinion that Abe should seek the approval of parliament before being allowed to declare a state of emergency.
"Given that individual rights would be suppressed after an emergency declaration, I would thoroughly examine its potential impacts when making a decision," Abe told a budget committee session earlier this week.