As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across Japan, event organizers are increasingly hitting the cancel button out of concern they might inadvertently contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Although the surge in cancellations has raised concerns about the economy and tourism, it is winning praise from risk management specialists who are calling on the public to cooperate with efforts to tame the growing epidemic.
On Friday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided to postpone its annual convention at a Tokyo hotel on March 8 because of the outbreak. Around 3,000 people, including Diet members, were scheduled to attend. The LDP will continue to monitor the situation before it reschedules. In the meantime, it has decided to adopt its action plan for the year at a general meeting of all its Diet members next month.
Major job information provider Recruit Career Co. said Thursday it decided to call off its March job-hunting seminars for students graduating in spring 2021.
The unit of Recruit Holdings Co. said it made the decision for the students’ safety. Rival Mynavi Corp. is considering similar measures.
The move suggests the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on students’ job-hunting activities, which usually shift into high gear in spring, is starting to expand.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided Friday to cancel or postpone major events of its own that are held indoors or serve food until March 15.
Cancellations apparently skyrocketed after the metro government announced Monday that it will bar thousands of general participants from running the Tokyo Marathon on March 1, restricting entry to elite runners. On the same day, the Imperial Household Agency said it canceled the annual birthday greeting for Emperor Naruhito, which was to be held on the grounds of the Imperial Palace on Sunday.
In Hokkaido, organizers of the Special Olympics Nippon National Winter Games, an athletics event for people with intellectual disabilities that was to be held from Friday to Sunday, called off the event out to prevent participants from catching the virus.
In Kanagawa Prefecture, organizers of the annual Miura International Marathon in Miura scheduled for March 1 also canceled.
Other marathons were canceled in Shizuoka, Kagoshima, Kyoto and Ibaraki prefectures.
Other groups are looking further into the future.
Sanrio Entertainment Co., which runs two theme parks, in Tokyo and in Oita Prefecture, announced Friday that the parks will be closed from Saturday until March 12 to prevent the spread of the disease.
The municipal governments of Shiogama and Yamamoto in Miyagi Prefecture are considering whether to proceed with a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11 or to limit the number of participants.
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, where almost half of the faculty and student body consists of foreign nationals, has announced it will cancel its March 13 graduation ceremony and its April 1 entrance ceremony. The school also informed incoming students that the staff will verify their travel history two weeks prior to enrollment and compile records of their body temperatures to check if they have a fever.
On Thursday, the central government also announced the cancelation of Host Town Summit 2020, a pre-Olympics event that was supposed to take place in Tokyo on Saturday.
Organizers’ decisions to cancel have drawn positive reactions from social safety experts.
“It must have been a painful decision for the organizers, given that cancellations may further spark an overreaction and criticism,” said Katsuyuki Kamei, a professor of risk management at Kansai University. “But that was a wise call, rather than holding them at any means, which could result in an outrage if participants contracted or had a part in spreading the virus.”
But for some industries, the spread of the novel coronavirus poses a challenge.
Experts from the film industry, knowing that canceling promotional events ahead of movie premieres is out of the question, are allowing only media to attend such events and asking the reporters and camera crews to wear masks to protect themselves.
Health minister Katsunobu Kato on Thursday urged organizers to rethink the need to hold large events as the deadly outbreak continues.
Kato, however, stopped short of asking all organizers refrain and said the decision will be left up to them, for now.
The health ministry noted that the risk of infection will rise if people linger in an indoor environment that does not allow adequate space to be maintained between them. It called on organizers to take into account such factors at venues when reconsidering their options.
While refraining from actively calling on organizers to cancel, the ministry said it will announce new policies if the situation changes.
It urged organizers who decide to follow through on their events to take concrete measures against infection, including reminders to participants to wash their hands, provision of alcohol-based disinfectants at the venues, and requests for people with cold-like symptoms not to attend.
“Now is a very important time for preventing the virus from spreading further,” Kato said. “I’d like to ask all members of the public to cooperate.”
The minister also asked people to refrain from going outside if they have symptoms of illness, while advising the elderly and people with chronic diseases to avoid crowds.
Pointing to the importance of creating an environment where workers and students can easily take leave, he said that teleworking and staggered commuting are “effective measures.”