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Internet cafe operators are working out how to deal with long-term customers who rely on their facilities and are struggling to find alternative housing, as the outlets prepare to shut down amid the spread of COVID-19.

Internet cafes have become caught between the need to follow shutdown requests from authorities due to the epidemic and wanting to stay open for those who have made the stores their home.

“I want to close as early as possible, considering my children and my wife,” said one internet cafe owner in Tokyo. “But I need to keep it open until those here can find another place to live.”

A sign was on display at his store Friday afternoon saying that it was fully booked despite vacancies in seven of the 20 rooms at the cafe.

“If new guests have the virus, it may infect others,” said the owner, in his 50s, explaining why he has been turning away new customers for the last three weeks.

The 13 current guests are all long-term residents.

The owner has done research on support programs for homeless people and has handed out such information to guests, requesting that they phone the support hotlines.

He intends to keep the internet cafe open until all the customers have moved on to their next accommodation.

“I can’t kick them out while it is still cold,” he said. “As long as they are still staying here, I will look after them.”

“Does that mean you will be in a difficult situation unless I leave soon?” asked a 53-year-old male construction worker who lives at the internet cafe. The owner nodded.

“I don’t know when (the store) can reopen, but it will once things settle down,” the owner told the guest. “If it doesn’t, it’ll cause trouble to all of you.”

The man has been staying at the internet cafe, at a cost of around ¥60,000 per month, for over two years. He said that he will return to his hometown outside Tokyo after the store closes, but that he felt uneasy about the move.

“I have elderly family members,” he said. “If I’m infected, I may pass it on to them.”

“I’m fortunate to have a place to return to,” he added. “There are some among us who have nowhere to go if we’re forced out.”

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