Tokyo Asks People to Stay Home, Bars to Shut Early to Beat Virus
(Bloomberg) -- Tokyo called on residents to reduce trips outdoors and asked bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors to close early as the city combats a surge in coronavirus infections.
Governor Yuriko Koike announced the steps on Wednesday, as the city reported 401 new coronavirus infections in a single day, while serious Covid-19 cases rose to 54.
“If you can, I would like residents to refrain from going outside as much as possible in order to halt any further increase in this outbreak,” Koike told a press conference.
Establishments serving alcohol will be requested to shut at 10 p.m. for 20 days starting Saturday. The metropolitan government plans to offer financial support, with up to 400,000 yen ($3,829) available to stores that follow the request. Japanese authorities are limited in the powers they have to enforce early closures or shutdowns, although similar restrictions on retail activity were adopted earlier this year as the outbreak took root in Japan.
The Nikkei also reported, citing an unidentified person, that a further increase in cases could lead to business hours being made even shorter.
Serious cases, which the city defines as those on a ventilator or ECMO machine, jumped 24% on Tuesday. The seven-day average of coronavirus cases in Tokyo has more than doubled over two weeks to surpass 400.
Just last week, Koike said the number of severe cases, rather than the number of new infections, were her “red line” that would spur further action, while saying then that severe cases had yet to see a surge.
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The capital and its neighboring prefectures account for about a third of Japan’s gross domestic product, so any limitations on businesses or movement would have an outsize effect on the economy. Authorities had been reluctant to take firmer steps for fear of pushing Japan back into recession.
Tokyo is just one of several metropolitan areas in Japan battling the latest surge in infections, with the northern island of Hokkaido already calling on people to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors, and Osaka moving to reduce opening hours. A popular campaign to spur domestic travel, which some have blamed for spreading infections, is also being partly suspended.
Responding to questions in parliament, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga denied that was a direct link between the travel program and the increase in infections, and suggested he would be receptive to better ideas to boost regional economies.
The requests in Tokyo also come at what is already a tough time for the city’s thousands of bars and restaurants. In any other year, they’d largely fully booked for year-end office parties, known as “bonenkai,” or “forget-the-year gatherings.” But despite Japan’s success in combating the pandemic, most companies are refraining from such events this year, with almost 90% of more than 8,000 companies surveyed by Tokyo Shoko Research saying they don’t plan to hold such events.
Both Tokyo and national authorities have already called on people to take extra care while having meals. Koike introduced guidelines last week calling on people to keep groups small, meals short and their voices down while gathering, while Suga has called on people to continue wearing masks when talking during meals.
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