Metropolitan Tokyo yesterday asked some businesses to close and the ancient capital of Kyoto warned tourists to stay away as Japan battles a fast-spreading outbreak of the novel coronavirus, amid fears that the government’s measures are too little and too late.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said that she was targeting a range of businesses for shutdowns from today during a month-long emergency through May 6, after resolving a feud with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s team over the extent of the closures.
Koike had wanted to move sooner, but Abe has resisted measures likely to put greater pressure on an economy that is already tipped to fall into a recession, fueling concerns that the central government is putting business ahead of people’s lives.
Photo: AFP / Jiji Press
“This will be tough on residents, but if we act swiftly, the pain will be short and the outbreak contained quickly,” Koike told a task force meeting yesterday.
Businesses including pachinko parlors and Internet cafes were being asked to close and restaurants to shorten their hours. Department stores, home furnishing centers and barber shops would be exempted, in a concession to the central government.
Abe on Tuesday declared an emergency for Tokyo and six prefectures, but the details and timing of how life would change in the capital were thrashed out in tense intergovernmental talks.
“I thought governors would get authority akin to a CEO but ... I feel more like a middle manager,” Koike told reporters, in a sign of frustration over central government pressure.
Abe’s move came after a jump in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo sparked concern that Japan was headed for the sort of explosive outbreak seen in many other countries.
The number of cases in Japan on Thursday rose to 5,548, with 108 deaths, Japan Broadcasting Corp said.
Tokyo accounted for 1,519 cases, heightening concerns about sluggish action.
Aichi Prefecture in Japan’s industrial heartland, home to automaker Toyota, yesterday declared its own state of emergency and has asked to be added to the government’s targeted regions.
Local media reported that Gifu Prefecture in central Japan was also poised to issue an emergency declaration and at least one other prefecture was set to do the same.
The governor of Kyoto Prefecture and the mayor of the ancient capital also asked to be included in the national emergency, and urged tourists to stay away from the city’s famous palaces, temples and gardens.
“I call on all people who love Kyoto and tourists from all over the world — until this situation is ended, to protect yourself and your families, please refrain from visiting Kyoto,” Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa told a news conference.
Critics have said that the Abe government’s cautious approach to business closures would undermine his goal to cut person-to-person contact by 80 percent to slow the spread of the pathogen.
Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son took to Twitter to question the government’s handling of the outbreak.
“Why has Japan put its economy minister in charge?” Son asked, comparing the Japanese government’s response to the leadership of US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
Koike last month warned that Tokyo could face a full “lockdown” if infections surged, although Japanese law does not mandate penalties for residents who refuse to stay home or businesses that stay open.
Koike also said that businesses that met her requests to close would receive between ￥500,000 and ￥1 million (US$4,614 and US$9,227) from a fund set up by the metropolitan government.
Abe has rejected calls to compensate such businesses from the central government’s purse.
The coronavirus has pushed 51 Japanese companies into bankruptcy, with a spike in new cases seen this month, Tokyo Shoko Research said yesterday.
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