Tokyo on Saturday kicked off a 20-day period during which restaurants that serve alcohol and karaoke venues have been asked by the metropolitan government to shorten business hours to help combat a recent resurgence of coronavirus infections.
The request comes two months after the lifting of a similar call and as the country the same day logged a daily figure of 2,684 new coronavirus cases and 440 cases of those with serious symptoms, both at record levels, further raising concerns about the severity of the virus.
The move comes as a blow to operators hoping for increased demand during the year-end party season and could derail the Japanese economy's nascent recovery.
The metropolitan government will provide ¥400,000 in financial support to each business complying with the request to close by 10 p.m. through Dec. 17. But many are undecided or will refuse to do so.
"Our sales had just started recovering. I can understand why the request was made but it is difficult to comply with it during the year's busiest season," said Jun Sagae, an izakaya (pub) manager in Shimbashi, a popular dining area for office workers. The pub had followed two similar requests made earlier.
Junichi Kawaguchi, who operates a restaurant in the Akasaka district, said that while he will close shop at 10 p.m. on weekdays, an hour earlier than usual, he wonders if simply shortening operating hours would actually have any effect on preventing the spread of the virus.
An izakaya near the busy transport hub of Ueno Station said Saturday it will comply with the request. "The number of customers has begun to decline again due to the resurgence of infections," one of its employees said, adding, "The ¥400,000 support is not sufficient at all. We hope that infections will settle down soon."
The capital is seeing record daily numbers of new infections, topping 500 in recent days. The metropolitan government has raised its virus alert to the highest of four levels for the first time since early September.
The number of people who have developed serious COVID-19 symptoms has reached a record 440, the health ministry said Saturday, with the figure doubling in nearly half a month.
The corresponding number for Tokyo reached 67 people, the highest level since a state of emergency declared over the pandemic was lifted in late May. The rise in people with severe symptoms has prompted Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to urge older people, in particular, to refrain from going out.
Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said the task to reduce the number of patients with serious symptoms is not easy.
"Once the number of those with serious symptoms increases, treatment for them will take longer, and this would require more medical workers to be involved," Wakita said.
Aichi Medical University professor Hiroshige Mikamo said at a forum on the coronavirus on Saturday that infections have "spread through all ages for the third wave" of the virus, and cases are growing again among older people.
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