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Hokkaido Railway Co. plans to put some 1,450 of its workforce, or 20 percent of all employees including contract workers, on leave to offset growing losses from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We need to take every possible measure for survival," JR Hokkaido President Osamu Shimada said at a news conference Wednesday.

Given the economic fallout from the coronavirus and continuing financial difficulties, JR Hokkaido has become the first of the six passenger units in the Japan Railways Group to take the measure since they were born from the 1987 privatization and breakup of the Japanese National Railways.

The railroad will ask employees take leave from May 1 but plans to pay out allowances for the period, which will last until July 23 — the final day companies paying such allowances are eligible for special treatment under the government's employment adjustment subsidy program.

The company is discussing the plan with its labor union.

Tourism in Hokkaido has plunged in the wake of government quarantine measures and stay-at-home requests by prefectural and municipal governments to slow the deadly pandemic.

In March, JR Hokkaido saw passenger traffic on its three major routes, including one linking Sapporo and Iwamizawa stations on the Hakodate Main Line, fall nearly 70 percent from the year-before levels.

The company expects to see a ¥13 billion decrease in passenger revenue by June.

JR Hokkaido decided earlier to cancel over 900 limited express trains until the Golden Week holidays end in early May. It now plans to suspend even more services.

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