OSAKA – With the number of novel coronavirus infections rising in Tokyo and other major urban centers, some concerned residents are fleeing to nearby prefectures where the number of cases is minimal.
But that is creating worry and wariness among local officials and residents, who are less than pleased that their small towns suddenly have a lot of outside visitors from the capital and other virus-hit areas.
In Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, just over an hour from Tokyo station by bullet train, television and social media footage over the past week or so of cars in town with Tokyo-area license plates has prompted concern about an increased risk of infections from visitors staying in the town’s villas.
At the end of March, Karuizawa Mayor Susumu Fujimaki called on outsiders to share the same sense of danger as those in Tokyo.
“The route to infection is not clear for many with the virus,” he warned.
In the nearby city of Chino, where there are about 12,000 villas, Mayor Atsushi Imai has asked that the people using them take precautions to prevent the spread of infection.
The request came after the city said it received numerous emails from residents who spotted a sudden increase in the number of cars with Tokyo-area license plates in the parking lots of local supermarkets and expressed concern that they posed a health risk.
Other officials are going further. Saku, also in Nagano Prefecture, wants Tokyo residents to remain in the capital. In a March 29 Twitter message to people in the Tokyo area, Mayor Seiji Yanagida noted there was an increase in the number of people from Tokyo visiting Nagano Prefecture.
“If possible, please stay in your homes in Tokyo. Perhaps you are considering moving from Tokyo, where the virus is spreading, to relatively calm Nagano Prefecture, but please think again about the spirit of the call to exercise self-restraint,” he wrote.
As of Tuesday, Nagano Prefecture had recorded 14 cases in total. But officials in areas where there are lots of villas owned or usually rented by people from Tokyo worry that in addition to a possible increase in infections, their local medical facilities could be overwhelmed if those staying in the villas become infected.
In the Kansai region, there were over 420 cases in Osaka Prefecture and over 200 cases in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture as of Tuesday morning. Similar to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura and Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido are encouraging residents in their prefectures to stay at home.
However, there was some concern in Tottori Prefecture about the possibility of people from major cities arriving there. Tottori, Shimane and Iwate prefectures were the only three prefectures to have no reported cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday morning.
In response to a question on Thursday about how to deal with possible visitors from Tokyo, Osaka or Hyogo who want to stay in Tottori because they think it’s safe, Gov. Shinji Hirai issued a call for people in areas that have been told to avoid unnecessary travel to follow the rules, including not traveling to Tottori.
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