Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced Wednesday that restaurants and bars offering alcohol and karaoke parlors in the capital will be urged to close by 10 p.m. for three weeks beginning Saturday amid an ongoing nationwide surge of the novel coronavirus.
The request encompasses the capital’s central 23 wards and the Tama region in western Tokyo and runs until Dec. 17. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government allocated ¥20 billion yen in a supplementary budget proposed earlier this month to provide ¥400,000 in financial compensation to each business that complies with the voluntary request.
“I urge residents to avoid nonessential outings and take necessary social distancing measures if they do need to go out. I urge companies to continue to promote teleworking,” Koike said during a meeting of the metropolitan government’s coronavirus task force Wednesday. “All that can be done must be done to stop the virus from spreading further.”
Koike also announced the capital will suspend new reservations for “Motto Tokyo,” a localized travel subsidy program meant to supplement the central government’s Go To Travel campaign, a national program meant to resuscitate the country’s tourism industry.
On Tuesday, Sapporo and Osaka were temporarily excluded from the national campaign.
The government’s Go To Eat campaign — a parallel program meant to assist businesses in the food industry — will be suspended in the capital as well. New discount vouchers will not be issued for three weeks and the expiration of those already distributed will be extended.
Tokyo reported 401 additional cases Wednesday, pushing the city’s total to 38,598 infections and nearly 500 deaths. Japan saw 1,228 new cases Tuesday, bringing the nationwide tally to 136,462 cases and 2,028 deaths.
Koike said that, at this point in time, Tokyo will remain eligible as a destination for the Go To Travel campaign. The capital was initially excluded when the program kicked off in July, but joined in October after new cases declined.
Sapporo and Osaka have been removed from the travel campaign. From Tuesday, new reservations in those two cities made using the campaign will not be accepted for three weeks, and such reservations made before the announcement will be nulled and reimbursed — and the impact on local businesses compensated — by the central government.
The suspension of the travel campaign is intended to act as a buffer for hard-hit areas where the health care system is at risk of being overwhelmed, said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the country’s national response to the novel coronavirus, on Tuesday.
The move came just days after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga — at the urging of experts on the government’s coronavirus subcommittee — abruptly announced Saturday that the areas hit hardest by the nationwide wave of new infections would be removed from the travel campaign, pending consultation with governors.
Suga said 176 cases have resulted from some 40 million trips taken using the discounts afforded by the campaign since it began in July.
Experts say there’s no proof the travel campaign is the cause of the ongoing nationwide surge, but that it surely exacerbated the situation.
Last week, Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said that, while the campaign may not be the cause of the third wave in Japan, it “acted as a catalyst.”
Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said Friday that the virus was “surely spread” through the movement of millions of people using the travel campaign, and that the government should suspend the program, at least temporarily in the areas reporting the most new cases.
Voluntary closure requests were issued to businesses by the central government when it declared a state of emergency on April 7, first in seven prefectures — including Tokyo — and extended 10 days later to the rest of the country. The state of emergency was lifted May 25.
The virus entered a lull in the weeks that followed but began to surge again, with the country’s second wave peaking in July.
As a result, food establishments in the capital’s 23 wards were asked to close shop by 10 p.m. from early August to mid-September.
The virus abated once again for just over a month until a third wave began, first in Hokkaido where officials were reporting record-breaking numbers of new infections in early November.
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