Lacking Legal Means, Japan Is Paying Night Clubs to Shut
A security guard wearing a protective mask stands outside the TK Shibuya club at night in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Kentaro Takahashi/Bloomberg)

Lacking Legal Means, Japan Is Paying Night Clubs to Shut

Japan has begun requesting some nightlife establishments to suspend their businesses in return for monetary compensation, signaling the nation is stepping up its fight against coronavirus outbreaks amid growing public outcry.

Nighttime businesses such as host clubs that close for at least 10 days will receive 500,000 yen ($4,664) per outlet from the Tokyo government, Asahi newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unidentified official. The city’s Toshima Ward had earlier asked the capital for such financial assistance. In southern Japan, Kagoshima prefecture, where more than 80 infections have been traced to one cabaret club, will pay up to 300,000 yen for night time entertainment establishments to close for two weeks starting Wednesday.

That’s a turnaround from when many such businesses weren’t able to claim subsidies during the state of emergency. Japan has no legal power to force businesses to close, which meant that some of these nighttime establishments stayed open throughout the country’s voluntary shutdown during April and May. With infections now increasing from the network of clubs, pressure is growing for a way to halt the virus’s spread.

In one of the latest cluster outbreaks, Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture of Saitama had 10 workers infected from a single host club, Kyodo News reported. The club’s customers will also be tested, the report said.

Lacking Legal Means, Japan Is Paying Night Clubs to Shut

“We’d like to use Toshima Ward’s measures as a model case and use the results to create compensation structures for other wards and cities, many of which are also worried about this issue,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Tuesday, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Approaches to mitigating the virus have diverged around the world as countries deal with new flare-ups on a case-by-case basis at a local level. In the U.S., businesses and social activities are resuming even as states record daily infection numbers in the tens of thousands. In Australia, Melbourne went under stay-at-home orders again this week after recording new daily cases of less than 200 but were a daily record for the state of Victoria.

Japan, which is almost fully reopened for business after a state of emergency in April and May, has refrained from asking for broad shop closures again despite a recent increase in case numbers. The number of new confirmed infections has exceeded 100 in Tokyo for six days in a row, stoking worry that the country may be heading toward another wave of infections. The city broke the streak on Wednesday, with 75 cases being reported.

Officials have maintained that the country can continue to reopen as its medical system is not overwhelmed and most new cases have been traceable. Japan will allow outdoor events of up to 5,000 people to take place from Friday. The government is also slated to begin a travel campaign next month that would give stipends to residents to travel domestically in order to spur regional tourism.

Most of the confirmed infections in recent weeks have been people in their 20s and 30s, who experience lighter symptoms and may not require hospitalization. Many of the new numbers are also from mass testing of night club workers and guests. The initial focus of night club cluster infections was in Shinjuku and its Kabukicho red light district. Since late June, many cases have been traced to host clubs in the bustling Ikebukuro district of Toshima Ward, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

“This is a good development. With the monetary support, many clubs could choose to close,” said Kaori Kohga, the head of the industry association representing hostesses and clubs. “One point of concern is that the money may only go to the business management, not the individual hosts.”

With many of the hosts and hostesses that work at the clubs living paycheck to paycheck, it would be better if initiatives like the Shinjuku Ward -- which may give its residents who were infected with the virus 100,000 yen in support funds -- and Toshima’s were combined to support the closure of the clubs, Kohga said. The Shinjuku Ward is yet to decide the eligibility for the funds, according to an official in charge of the support money.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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