• Jiji, Kyodo, Staff report


The government may ask Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba to make business suspension requests depending on the extent of the new coronavirus outbreak there, according to economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

Among the four prefectures in the metropolitan area, Saitama is one step ahead, issuing its own business closure requests beginning Monday to host clubs, hostess bars and other restaurants offering hospitality services that haven’t taken adequate prevention measures.

“To avoid a situation where people flow into the three prefectures if they cannot go out in Tokyo, it would be important for the whole Tokyo metropolitan area to take steps in an integrated manner,” Nishimura, who is in charge of the central government’s response to the virus crisis, told a news conference Sunday. “We have to think about business suspension requests as we monitor the infection situation.”

The minister was referring to business suspension requests prefectural governors are entitled to make based on Article 24 of the revised special measures law to fight new strains of influenza, which now covers the novel coronavirus.

His remarks came as the central government studies ways to strengthen preventive measures to tackle the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

On Monday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed 119 cases of infection, which brought the capital’s cumulative total to 8,046.

Monday’s figure ended the four-day streak of infections through Sunday exceeding 200, but fears of a resurgence still remain.

Young people in their 20s and 30s who had visited nightlife establishments are said to account for most of the recent cases, but untraceable cases have been on the rise while infection clusters in company offices, hospitals — and even nurseries — have been confirmed.

Kanagawa Prefecture reported over 30 cases both Friday and Saturday before dropping to 23 on Sunday.

Chiba is not an exception. The prefectural government confirmed 32 new cases on Sunday, the highest since the national state of emergency was lifted in late May.

Saitama’s business closure requests, which are based on Article 24, were announced by Gov. Motohiro Ono on Sunday, after the prefecture’s daily infection count reached 31 for the third straight day over 30.

“With the number of infections rising, we’ve decided to take stricter measures by making stronger requests,” Ono said Sunday. “We need cooperation from residents to prevent the spread the virus.”

Nishimura welcomed Saitama’s move, calling it “an effective measure.” He said the central government hopes to support such efforts by prefectural governments, also including Tokyo’s initiative to encourage people working at host clubs and other nightlife establishments to undergo polymerase chain reaction tests.

The minister said he is strongly concerned about the fact that COVID-19 cases have started to be reported across the country. He reiterated his call for efforts to avoid the three Cs of closed, crowded and close-contact settings to prevent the spread of the virus especially to elderly people.

The situation in the metropolitan area has prompted populated areas in other regions, especially Osaka, to be on high alert. The Osaka Prefectural Government on Sunday renewed its call on residents to ensure virus-prevention steps.

The Osaka government is asking its residents not to visit nightlife entertainment establishments with poor measures against the coronavirus. It is also calling on its residents to avoid the three Cs to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Also on Sunday, the prefectural government raised its warning to the “yellow light” phase after the daily cases in the prefecture reached 32 earlier in the day.

The system, called the Osaka model, monitors a set of data including the number of new cases with unknown infection routes. If the situation worsens further, the “red light” comes next and the prefectural government would declare a state of emergency.

In Osaka, infections related to nightlife districts account for one-third of the newly confirmed cases from mid-June. Many new cases are young people.

“As infections are spreading mainly among young people in nightlife districts, we want relevant businesses to take thorough preventive measures,” Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters Sunday.

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