Japan's Abe vows unprecedented stimulus as Tokyo virus cases rise

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday promised an unprecedented package of steps to cushion the world’s third-biggest economy from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the country was close to a national emergency as infections surged.

Abe said the “huge, powerful” measures will include fiscal stimulus, monetary steps and tax breaks for companies, though the details have not been finalized.

“We are in a critical stage. We need to be ready for a long-term battle,” Abe said in a nationally televised news conference, adding: “I want to be straightforward about that.”

Infections in Japan have climbed to more than 1,500, with 52 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Officials confirmed a further 60 cases in Tokyo and on Saturday announced 57 new coronavirus cases at a center for the disabled in Chiba prefecture near the capital, NHK said.

Hit early by the coronavirus in its initial spread from China, Japan had seen a more gradual rise than the recent surge in much of Europe and the United States that has led to lockdowns of billions of people around the world.

Abe held back from declaring a state of emergency though he announced plans to approve the drug Avigan that has proved helpful in treatment.

“The pandemic is inflicting extremely big damage to Japan’s economy,” he said. “We’ll deploy a huge, powerful package that will include a full range of fiscal, monetary and tax measures.”