National

Tokyo nears phase two of virus recovery plan as Osaka to fully reopen

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff writer

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced Friday that phase two of the capital’s three-part plan to peel back coronavirus countermeasures will begin on Monday.

A day earlier, the Osaka Prefectural Government said it would start lifting all remaining business closure requests on Monday — giving the green light to clubs, gyms, bars and other facilities that had been struck by cluster infections.

Municipal leaders say new cases of the novel coronavirus will be closely monitored as the country’s largest cities continue to emerge from the state of emergency declared April 7 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who lifted the order in all prefectures on Monday.

The brisk pace and disjointed manner in which these orders are being lifted in different parts of the country, however, are drawing criticism and concern.

Under Tokyo’s plan, social distancing and business closure requests will be peeled back in three phases to reopen society and reboot the capital’s economy while taking precautionary measures to prevent a second wave of infections.

Tokyo, one of the last prefectures to be cleared, will enter phase two on Monday, Koike said at a meeting Friday of the metropolitan government’s coronavirus task force.

“As we move closer to reopening the city, now is when the risk of a second wave is at its highest,” Koike said Friday. “We need to prioritize both the local economy and the well-being of residents.”

In phase one, Tokyo urged museums, libraries and other cultural institutions to reopen while eating establishments were urged to close at 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. In phase two, movie theaters, gyms and entertainment venues will be urged to reopen.

On Thursday, before the governor’s remarks, a hospital in western Tokyo reported nine coronavirus infections, bringing the capital’s daily total to 15 — the third day in a row more than 10 cases have been reported since the state of emergency was lifted.

According to the metropolitan government, Tokyo’s daily average over the past two weeks is nine, up 7 percent from the previous week. About 54 percent of the cases were untraceable.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has asked the health ministry to send a response team to investigate infections at Musashino Central Hospital in the western suburb of Koganei.

Earlier this week, the ministry dispatched a response team to Kitakyushu after the city saw infections suddenly emerge after three weeks with none.

As of Thursday, Japan had reported nearly 16,500 infections and about 860 deaths. Tokyo accounts for more than 5,000 of the cases and nearly 300 of the deaths. Osaka has reported about 1,700 cases and 80 deaths.

Tokyo and Osaka account for most of the infections, followed by Kanagawa, Hokkaido and Saitama.

The Osaka Prefectural Government announced Thursday that voluntary business closure requests for facilities where cluster infections occurred will be lifted Monday, removing all such requests in the prefecture since the governor declared the state of emergency there over on May 21.

But other countermeasures remain in place in Osaka, including, among other things, a request for those attending concerts to stay seated while listening to performances.

At a news conference, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said its better for businesses to “operate while taking cautionary measures than to close for long periods of time and risk bankruptcy.”

Osaka and Tokyo will monitor new and untraceable cases and reimpose countermeasures if and when their governors believe it’s necessary.

In Osaka, facilities looking to reopen are compelled to maintain customer lists and adopt a system developed by the prefectural government to track the infected via QR codes, among several other countermeasures. Business closure requests will be made again if clusters emerge.

In Tokyo, the metropolitan government will monitor the number of hospitalized patients and the infection rate among those who have received polymerase chain reaction tests. They will also keep an eye on the number of calls and consultations received by coronavirus hotlines.

If daily infections in Tokyo exceed 50, more than half are untraceable or new cases have doubled since the previous week, Koike said she will strongly consider reinstating emergency measures.

Koike said these criteria will be monitored over a two-week period. Questions were raised when Tokyo announced the capital would increase measures to reopen just five days after the emergency was lifted.

Information from Kyodo and Jiji added

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