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The government said Friday it plans to request that companies extend their New Year holidays, possibly to about a week in length, to mitigate congestion on public transportation and during traditional shrine visits as a measure against COVID-19.

Since the year-end to New Year holiday season in Japan is a time for family reunions, train stations and airports typically become overcrowded on certain days with those traveling home.

By lengthening the holiday season, people are likely to be able to make more flexible travel schedules and avoid congestion. The measure was discussed during a meeting of a government subcommittee dealing with the coronavirus. The subcommittee suggested the government request that companies allow employees to take days off flexibly around the New Year holiday season.

Generally, Japanese companies resume business operations after the first three days of New Year, but the government plans to ask firms to delay that resumption to after Jan. 11, which is a national holiday.

In a meeting Wednesday, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura asked the Japan Association of New Economy, a lobbying group headed by Rakuten Inc. Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani, to consider extending the holiday season and to continue to promote telework, according to local media reports. Many IT firms are members of the group. Nishimura said Friday that he will make the request to other major business lobbying groups including Keidanren.

Family gatherings can increase infection risks for seniors, who are more vulnerable to severe illnesses when infected with the COVID-19 virus. In addition to those planning family reunions, the ongoing travel subsidy campaign sponsored by the government will likely facilitate people’s movement across the country.

People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus bow before climbing the steep stairs of a shrine on Oct. 12 in Tokyo. | AP
People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus bow before climbing the steep stairs of a shrine on Oct. 12 in Tokyo. | AP

The New Year tradition of visiting Shinto shrines could also cause infection clusters, so people will be asked to visit when they are not crowded. The shrines usually draw crowds of people on New Year’s day.

The government has requested precautions during previous national holidays as well.

During Golden Week from late April to early May, when the country had declared a state of emergency, authorities urged people to refrain from visiting their families in person and to use video calls instead.

For the Bon holidays in August, the government asked them to take thorough measures such as washing hands, wearing masks and avoiding crowded places to prevent the infection of seniors.

According to NHK, Japan had seen 96,247 cases of infection and 1,711 deaths, including those from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, as of 4:30 p.m Friday. The number of daily infections nationwide this month has fluctuated from around 270 to 700.

Last week, the government subcommittee said Japan had not seen a drastic surge of cases lately as factors that increase the number of infections and those that decrease it were balancing each other out. But this balance could collapse any time, so the subcommittee has said that the government needs to explain which behaviors are risky in a clearer way based on analyses of cases where there have been clusters of infections.

Greetings are performed by apprentice geiko entertainers, called maiko, in Kyoto on Dec. 13, 2019, during the kotohajime event in preparation for New Year. | KYODO
Greetings are performed by apprentice geiko entertainers, called maiko, in Kyoto on Dec. 13, 2019, during the kotohajime event in preparation for New Year. | KYODO

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