National

Few in Japan on the streets as stay-at-home requests heeded by big cities and businesses

Kyodo, bloomberg

Far fewer people were seen out and about Saturday after official stay-at-home requests in major cities grew in response to another spike in coronavirus infections.

For the second weekend in a row, many refrained from going out after the National Governors’ Association called on residents Thursday to avoid leaving home unless necessary. Store and restaurant closures proliferated as well, with Starbucks and Tully’s coffee shops, Matsumotokiyoshi drug stores, Big Echo karaoke parlors and Isetan department stores adding their names to the list.

People now have fewer reasons than ever to leave the house.

“As the vast majority of stores are shut, the number of people on the streets is only about 10 percent of normal times,” a 48-year-old shop employee in Tokyo’s Omotesando shopping district said. “I hardly see foreign tourists now these days.”

Besides Tokyo, where a nearly weeklong surge in cases has made the capital the worst-hit area in the country, stay-at-home requests have been issued in Osaka as well as Ibaraki, Miyagi, Fukui and Fukuoka prefectures.

The nationwide number of infections is nearly 4,000 if the 700 or so from the Diamond Princess cruise ship saga are included. The death toll is at 78.

Tokyo accounts for the biggest share, with the number of daily infections exceeding 100 for the first time on Saturday.

Across Tokyo this weekend and into next week, karaoke parlors, amusement centers and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs) will be among the businesses closing, with many shutting down their entire chains for more than 10 days.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. has decided to close six department stores in and around Tokyo on weekends until April 12. Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee said Friday that some stores would be closed for the weekend, with Starbucks specifying Tokyo and seven other prefectures.

Even the Shibuya district, normally packed with teens and young adults, was no exception. Shibuya 109, a popular landmark and shopping site for young women, will be closed through April 12. Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings said it will close 15 drugstores in popular areas of Tokyo and Osaka this weekend.

Round One is closing all 103 of its amusement centers nationwide from Saturday, backtracking on a plan to shut just a handful and reduce hours elsewhere.

A similar atmosphere was found in commercial districts beyond Tokyo.

Foot traffic was noticeably sparse, except for people buying daily necessities and hunting for elusive surgical masks.

“I went to all the shops in this area to find masks but all were sold out. I hope I can still find them,” said a 43-year man who was waiting in a line outside a drug store in Fukuoka’s Tenjin shopping district about an hour before opening time.

Japan’s strategy for dealing with the virus has so far eschewed the full-on lockdowns seen in other rich nations; it has the lowest official infection rate in the Group of Seven, even though its authorities lack the same powers if a state of emergency is declared. Instead, Japan has focused on encouraging people to avoid an overlap of what it calls “Three Cs” — crowded spaces with poor ventilation, crowded conditions with people and conversations in close proximity.

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