National

Many in Japan head for work despite Abe’s call to stay home in pandemic

Kyodo

Wearing face masks, many people in Japan headed to work as usual on Monday, the first business day since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a 70 percent reduction in commuters to curb new COVID-19 infections.

Some workers expressed difficulty in following Abe's request due to the nature of their work, while others said they weren't able to do everything at home even though they had already started teleworking.

Tokyo's JR Shinbashi Station, normally bustling with business people, was quieter than usual in the morning.

"I'm aware of the (requested) 70 percent cut, but I cannot take time off from work," said a 69-year-old man who is in the medical field.

"I've been teleworking recently, and I go out when I have no other choice," said Mitsuhiro Shibuya, a 58-year-old whose job involves purchasing goods for supermarkets.

The nation has been battling to stem a further surge in COVID-19 infections, with Abe having declared last week a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures.

To lift the state of emergency in a month, Abe has said people need to reduce contact with others by as much as 80 percent. On Saturday, he asked companies to promote teleworking in order to achieve the needed 70 percent cut in commuters.

A growing number of companies are switching to teleworking amid the spread of the virus, though industry here in general has been slow to adopt the practice.

In the Marunouchi business and commercial district of Tokyo, many shops were closed and there were few people seen walking the streets.

"I've shifted to teleworking, but I need to go to the office once a week, which is today," said a 57-year-old public servant whose work involves disaster relief.

"We cannot reduce the number of people who will be put in charge of support (if a natural disaster occurs)," he said.

Of the country's 47 prefectures Tokyo has reported by far the largest number of cases of COVID-19, with the total topping 2,000 on Sunday.

Sharp increases in infections in urban areas have sounded the alarm among government officials and medical experts. Across the nation the number of cases has topped 8,000, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in February near Tokyo.

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