National

Data show huge drops in urban traffic as Japan weighs state of emergency extension

by Ryusei Takahashi

STAFF WRITER

Pedestrian traffic dropped between 50 and 80 percent in major urban areas over the weekend as the central government continues to weigh an extension of its nationwide state of emergency declaration.

According to data gathered by NTT Docomo Inc., urban foot traffic on Sunday afternoon across the 47 prefectures was 50 to 80 percent lower compared with figures from those areas in January and February.

Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward saw a 78 percent drop in pedestrian traffic, while areas surrounding Yokohama, Kyoto and Nagoya stations saw drops of more than 70 percent, the data showed.

This week marks the unofficial beginning of Golden Week, one of the country’s busiest holiday seasons along with Bon in August and New Year’s.

Bullet trains that are normally packed at this time of the year were nearly deserted over the weekend. Train operators reported that many shinkansen leaving Tokyo Station on Saturday were 90 percent empty.

In the capital, just a smattering of people could be seen passing through Shibuya’s famed scramble crossing Friday night, when it is almost always inundated by chaotic crowds. The same could be seen Sunday in the Harajuku area’s trendy Takeshita-dori shopping street, a popular destination for the city’s youth.

While some parts of Tokyo have been noticeably quieter since the initial declaration on April 7, others remain relatively crowded. On Sunday, most likely owing to the nice weather, Yoyogi Park was bustling with visitors playing sports, walking with their partners or picnicking on the grass.

The central government is slated to announce during Golden Week whether it will extend the emergency declaration beyond its current May 6 deadline, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to make the decision based on coronavirus infections reported during the holidays.

Despite significant declines in the public’s movements, results are still falling short of the government’s goal to reduce human contact by 80 percent to halt the spread of the virus.

Abe initially declared a state of emergency on April 7 in seven prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. Nine days later, the order was extended to the rest of the country, with 13 prefectures designated as areas that call for “special vigilance.”

“It is now an extremely important period for bringing the state of emergency to a swift close,” Abe said Friday, hinting that the government may publicly release the names of businesses defying the government’s request to temporarily close or operate under reduced hours.

Last week, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike pressed residents in the capital to isolate themselves even further after ongoing measures yielded lackluster results. Tokyo’s single-day COVID-19 tally slowed on Sunday to 72 confirmed cases — the lowest figure since April 1 and the first in 13 days to drop below 100.

Tokyo officials said that, while popular areas in the capital have seen significant drops in traffic, bigger crowds have been gathering at grocery stores, shopping arcades and pachinko parlors since the declaration was made.

The governor called on residents to reduce trips to grocery stores to once every three days, and to send one family member instead of going together in groups. She also asked them to refrain from traveling in or out of the city during Golden Week.

“Unfortunately, this year’s Golden Week won’t be so golden,” Koike said during a news conference Friday. “The actions we take now will determine how soon we can return to normal life.”

Also on Friday, Osaka Prefecture announced the names of six pachinko parlors that didn’t comply with requests to close or reduce business hours while the national emergency is in effect. Koike said she had reached out to 40 such pachinko parlors in Tokyo, and will release the names of nearly 100 such businesses by the end of the month if they choose not to comply.

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