National

Japan's workers and parents feel the strain as Abe extends state of emergency

Kyodo

Workers in hospitality, tourism and other industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as parents have appealed to the government for more financial and other support, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended the nationwide state of emergency on Monday by over three weeks.

“Unless (the government) offers sufficient compensation and legally enforces business closures, we are left in limbo,” said Yoshihiko Kitamura, 40, who has been forced to cut the business hours at his Italian restaurant in Susukino, a major entertainment district in Hokkaido. “I wonder if our voices are heard at all,” he added.

Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and eight other prefectures are being kept under close monitoring by the government after Abe extended the nationwide state of emergency, initially effective through Wednesday, until the end of May.

In Tokyo, a 40-year-old man said an interior decorating contract he was involved in with a department store could no longer be completed by mid-June, as planned, now that businesses have been asked to delay their reopening.

“I have to ask workers we have secured for the job to stand by at home,” he said.

In Okinawa, a popular tourist destination, Chokei Taira, the 65-year-old owner of local hotel chain Kariyushi Group Holdings Co., said, “I understand it’s important to contain the coronavirus pandemic swiftly. But our business faces enormous difficulties so I hope we’ll be allowed to resume operations in stages by the summer season.”

Hiroto Mizuno, 48, who runs a restaurant specializing in Okinawa cuisine in the central prefecture of Gifu, and can now operate for only a few hours a day, said, “Given the circumstances an extension can’t be helped, but I’m currently behind in repaying my loans. If this situation continues, it will be very difficult to stay in business.”

Megumi Yoshida, a mother of two boys in Osaka, said her 3-year-old son’s enrollment at a kindergarten had been put off. “I want to let him play with other children his age, but there’s no place to take my kids,” she said.

The government is prodding schools to reopen gradually, by adopting measures such as holding classes in smaller groups, and with priority given to classes for first- and sixth-graders in elementary school, as well as seniors in junior high school.

Parents and teachers, while welcoming the idea, are still worried about risks of infection.

A 39-year-old father of a third-grader in Tokyo said, “I think he’s under stress over not being able to meet his friends so I hope he’ll be allowed to attend school as much as possible.”

“Elementary schools are not only a place to study but a place to learn how to interact with people,” he said.

Kimiko Yamashita, a 37-year-old mother of a sixth-grader, said she wants schools to restart but is not so optimistic about the reopening plan. “It’s likely the school will be closed again if there’s even one student infected there … perhaps it’s better to just start from, say, around September.”

A 36-year-old high school teacher in Tokyo said, “It’s necessary to take steps such as allowing classes in small groups, while ensuring infection prevention measures.”

Noting that he had not been able to advise seniors about preparations for university entrance exams or job hunting, he said he wanted the government to clarify its position on whether to change the start of the academic year from April — one of the issues under consideration to cope with prolonged school closures.

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