National

Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo residents ambivalent about lifting emergency

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

Residents of Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo prefectures are expressing relief that businesses are reopening but concern it could lead to a second wave of coronavirus infections in the heart of the Kansai region.

Department stores that had closed, as well as shopping arcades, began reopening Friday morning. At many, customers were greeted by staff wearing not only white masks, but also clear plastic face shields and bottles of liquid disinfectant at the entrance. Some facilities limited the number of people who could enter at one time and were conducting temperature checks on customers to ensure they were not feverish.

Movie theaters reopened as well, with one theater in Osaka putting up posters indicating that tickets will be sold with one empty seat in between and asking visitors to wear masks.

In the city of Osaka, Friday morning rush hour on the train system was back to about two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels, it said. Trains had some windows open, but media interviews with commuters in neighboring Hyogo and Kyoto showed there were still concerns about the risk of cluster infections.

On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the three prefectures would no longer be under the national state of emergency, after infection rates in all three met the central government’s criteria for lifting it.

The standard for lifting it was an infection rate of 0.5 cases or less per 100,000 residents over a one-week period. As of Thursday evening, the rates stood at 0.17 for Osaka, 0.01 for Hyogo and zero for Kyoto.

Abe also offered praise for Osaka’s independent plan for reopening businesses before the national emergency was lifted.

“I hope the ‘Osaka model’ conveys a new model of doing business in the coronavirus era,” Abe said.

Meriken Park in Kobe on Thursday, the day the government lifted the state of emergency in three prefectures in the Kansai region, including Hyogo | KYODO
Meriken Park in Kobe on Thursday, the day the government lifted the state of emergency in three prefectures in the Kansai region, including Hyogo | KYODO

That same evening, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura decided to lift requests for most remaining businesses that had closed or shortened operating hours, including those that attract large crowds, such as theme parks, pachinko parlors and other popular facilities.

“Places like Universal Studios Japan and Osaka Aquarium will be allowed to reopen. We also want to lift the request on restaurants to close down early,” Yoshimura said.

In neighboring Kyoto, Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki announced Thursday evening that the prefectural government would continue to ask that large events be canceled or postponed. He said indoor events with 100 people were permissible but added that venues will still be asked to use only half their capacity to encourage social distancing.

However, universities in Kyoto will continue to be asked to remain closed until at least the end of the month.

“There are many students in Kyoto who commute from other prefectures. We’ll draw up guidelines for reopening, and decide next week whether to reopen in June,” Nishiwaki said.

Whether to reopen universities in particular has been a key issue for Kyoto officials. Education ministry statistics for 2019 showed that university or junior college students account for 10 percent of the city’s population, the largest ratio in any major city in the nation, including Tokyo.

In Hyogo, where Gov. Toshizo Ido often clashes with Yoshimura and has expressed caution over Osaka’s rush to get back in business before the emergency expires, reopening measures similar to those in Osaka and Kyoto were announced. But the governor also warned residents to be on guard.

“The national state of emergency has been lifted, but we need to get ready for a second wave of infections,” he said Thursday night.

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