• Kyodo, Jiji, Staff report


Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures officially decided Monday to call for business closures in the fight against further spread of the coronavirus.

Both prefectures are among the seven currently in a state of emergency as designated by the central government, which is meanwhile calling for a 70 percent cut in commuters in the nation’s emergency zones.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency on April 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka, calling the pandemic “the biggest crisis since World War II.”

Osaka’s request that businesses stay closed was to take effect at midnight Monday and will continue through May 6, the end of the Golden Week holidays. Businesses subject to the request include schools, movie theaters, night clubs and internet cafes.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, addressing a meeting Monday of a prefectural task force, said: “Despite the state of emergency declaration last week, the number of new cases of infection has doubled. Business closure requests are necessary in order to avoid explosive spread of infection.”

The request by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government will be enforced in the same time frame. Like other prefectures taking similar steps, Fukuoka’s closure request does not cover establishments necessary for people’s daily lives, including hospitals, supermarkets and operators of public transportation.

In addition, restaurants, including izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs), will not be asked to close, Fukuoka officials said. Instead, they will be asked to shorten their hours and operate only from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., while sales of liquor should end at 7 p.m., the officials said.

Regarding the contentious spot of whether voluntarily closing businesses would receive any financial compensation, Osaka Gov. Yoshimura expressed his intention not to provide any such money, saying the prefectural government alone cannot afford such compensation.

The central government is calling on businesses in the seven prefectures under the state of emergency to reduce commuting by at least 70 percent, although it has not made any request for suspension of railways and buses.

The government has also expanded its request for those residents not to patronize bars and nightclubs to the entire nation.

With their decisions Monday, Osaka and Fukuoka joined Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama in taking similar steps. The remaining prefectures, Chiba and Hyogo, are moving in the same direction, allowing all seven prefectures in emergency zones to be on the same page.

Although Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita was initially reluctant to follow Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures, the Chiba Prefectural Government announced a list of businesses subject to its closure request, effective midnight Monday. The prefecture will request cinema complexes and other entertainment facilities to be shut, while refraining from urging restaurants and bars to cut business hours.

Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido has said his prefecture, which sits next to Osaka, will call for some business closures.

Meanwhile, some other prefectures that are not covered by the central government’s emergency zone designations are taking their own steps to help contain the virus spread.

On Monday, Ishikawa Prefecture declared its own state of emergency over the virus, calling its residents not to go out for nonessential, non-urgent matters through May 6. During a news conference, Gov. Masanori Tanimoto also asked residents to refrain from bars and night clubs.

The number of COVID-19 infections in the prefecture had reached 113 on Sunday.

Ishikawa’s move came after Hokkaido declared a second round of state of emergency on Sunday, following one issued in late February, after seeing an increase in the pace of coronavirus infections.

While Hokkaido was not covered in the state’s declaration of an emergency, the prefectural government and the municipal government of Sapporo, the prefectural capital, issued a joint emergency declaration following reports of double-digit increases in infections recently.

“We are facing a crisis of a second wave in the spread of (the coronavirus) infections,” Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki told reporters, asking residents to refrain from making nonessential outings.

Hokkaido had declared its own state of emergency on Feb. 28 ahead of the government and lifted it on March 19, citing signs that the coronavirus spread was abating in the prefecture, a popular area for both Japanese and foreign tourists.

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