OSAKA – Bars, karaoke lounges and restaurants serving alcohol in parts of the city of Osaka began operating under shorter hours Friday, a day after the prefecture saw a record daily total of 12 deaths due to COVID-19.
Osaka Prefecture recorded 383 new cases of the disease Friday. A day earlier it reported 326 cases with infection routes unknown for 206 people, and 12 deaths bringing the number of novel coronavirus fatalities in the prefecture to 297. There were 108 serious COVID-19 cases receiving care.
For the third time since the outbreak began earlier this year, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura called on businesses serving food and drinks to reduce their operating hours, in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.
But the governor also warned that the number of cases was increasing and hospitals were nearing the limits of their ability to respond, and that it may soon be necessary to declare a state of emergency.
“It’s a bitter decision to make, asking further for something difficult when everyone is already facing a difficult situation,” Yoshimura told reporters Thursday night. “But medical facilities are severely squeezed.” If the percentage of hospital beds in use passes 50%, the prefecture is expected to issue a Stage 4 alert — which would necessitate declaring a state of emergency. As of Thursday night, the occupancy rate was 46.7%, including light and moderate cases.
Yoshimura’s request to reduce operating hours was not for all of Osaka Prefecture. Eating and drinking establishments in the Kita and Chuo wards of the city of Osaka are being asked to operate only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. until Dec. 11. Nightclubs and karaoke lounges there are also being asked to close at 9 p.m.
The prefecture estimates there to be about 25,000 such businesses in the two wards, which are also home to major corporations and shopping areas, local government offices and rail stations that connect Osaka to other parts of the Kansai region.
With many businesses in the area already suffering or having gone out of business due to the coronavirus, restaurants and bars still operating had hoped the usual December bōnenkai parties would provide a much-needed boost. Some expressed concern that the new request to shorten hours was being made now in particular.
“Our employees also have lives, and the timing, at the end of the year, to announce shorter hours is worrisome,” said Yusaku Hashi, a manager at Kushikatsu Daruma in the city’s Dotonbori district in Chuo Ward.
Establishments that agree to the new hours of operation will be eligible to receive up to ¥500,000 for their cooperation.
Adjacent prefectures have also expressed concern about Osaka’s rising number of infections and are warning their residents, many of whom are daily commuters to Osaka, to exercise caution. Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido has called for people to avoid unnecessary travel to Osaka as well as Tokyo, and to work from home more. Nara Gov. Shogo Arai has specifically asked residents to avoid going to Osaka for eating, drinking or shopping, and Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki issued a similar request to Kyoto residents Friday.
Information from Kyodo added
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