A growing number of firms have been encouraging greater use of telecommuting as they try to minimize the risks of employees contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus, bracing for a likely spread of the highly infectious novel disease in Japan.

Telecommunications giant NTT Group has decided to promote teleworking and off-peak commuting by 200,000 group employees in Japan starting Monday, a spokeswoman for the group said.

NTT Group notified subsidies, including NTT DoCoMo and NTT East and NTT West, of the policy on Friday, allowing each firm to set its own details for implementing the measure.

NTT has also instructed its workers to have video teleconference calls more often to replace face-to-face internal meetings.

The tightened measure came as group member NTT Data Corp. announced Friday that an employee of a cooperative firm, who was working at a NTT Data office in Minato Ward, Tokyo, was diagnosed with the new coronavirus and that 14 employees who had close contact with the person would be working from home for 14 days.

Internet portal Yahoo Japan Corp. instructed its 6,500 employees to ban participation in large internal meetings or events where more than 100 people gather, a company official said Monday. The wholly owned subsidiary of Z Holdings Corp. also urged staff to make greater use of off-peak commute routes, use masks and gloves when commuting and when dealing with guests, and to refrain from having nonessential guest meetings.

Yahoo normally allows employees who have young children or are pregnant, as well as some other staff, to work remotely up to five days a month. The company has scrapped the limitation following the coronavirus outbreak.

Yahoo also banned employees from having lunch outside of the office and urged them to use the company’s internal cafes.

GMO Internet Group has been having about 4,000 employees based in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, or 90 percent of all of its staff in Japan, work from home since Jan. 27 in response to the outbreak, it said in a statement.

GMO has banned overseas trips and the use of public transportation during the commute if the commute is necessary. The company has OK’d the use of vehicles and taxis as an alternative means for commuting.

Telecommuting has been a growing workplace trend in Japan, with the government urging firms to introduce the practice to help ease anticipated traffic congestion during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The government has staged an annual summer campaign since 2017. Last year, about 680,000 people from 2,887 bodies participated in the Telework Days campaign from July 22 to Sept. 6, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

About 19.1 percent of firms have introduced telecommuting in 2019, up from 13.9 percent in 2018, according to the ministry.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been calling for flexible work styles such as telecommuting as part of efforts to ease the severe labor shortage, with the unemployment rate hovering near its lowest level in about 26 years. Long commutes, especially in major cities like Tokyo, have become a social problem, and the government is hoping that telework can lead to drawing more women into employment and keeping working mothers in the workforce.

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