More local governments across Japan have decided not to open swimming beaches this year amid the new coronavirus outbreak.
The decisions are aimed at preventing crowding at beaches in order to reduce the risk of infection with the novel coronavirus, and also reflect difficulties in securing lifesavers.
With no restrictions on entering the ocean, however, concerns over water accidents are growing.
In Kanagawa Prefecture, the shores of which usually attract many beachgoers from Tokyo and elsewhere, the opening of all 25 swimming areas has been canceled.
Chiba Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture likewise decided to close all bathing areas this year.
Suma Beach in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, will also have no designated swimming area this year.
According to the Japan Lifesaving Association, more than 120 of the 208 swimming areas where lifesavers certified by the association worked last summer have decided to remain closed this year.
However, even if there are no designated swimming areas, people can still freely enter beaches and the ocean in principle.
But such beaches will not be covered by relevant ordinances or rules, so authorities are not required to designate areas prohibited for swimming, set up lifesaving stations or deploy lifeguards.
In many cases, such beaches will also be exempt from rules regulating the drinking of alcohol and making noise.
Local governments are becoming increasingly worried about aquatic accidents due to a lack of sufficient safety measures.
Municipalities are calling on people to refrain from swimming in such areas, while struggling to come up with steps to ensure safety.
The municipal government of Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, has established a council and drawn up new rules under which lifeguards will be assigned and life-saving stations set up for a limited period and with limited hours, according to city officials.
On swimming where bathing beaches are not open, an official from the Japan Lifesaving Association said, "We want people to pay full attention to safety under the principle of self-responsibility and follow regional rules if there are any."
Listing precautions on its website, the association urges every swimmer to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to help prevent accidents.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.