Retailers and restaurant operators in Japan are having a hard time figuring out how they should respond to the recent rapid spread of the new coronavirus after the governors of Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures asked the central government to declare a state of emergency over COVID-19.
They are carefully watching whether the central government will decide to make an emergency declaration as requested by the governors based on the country's special measures law for tackling the pandemic. The declaration will give prefectural authorities the power to take stronger measures, including issuing business suspension requests.
"As long as we are not officially asked to shorten our business hours, we want to open our stores by thoroughly implementing infection prevention measures," said an official from a major department store operator.
The economy is expected to suffer major damage if a state of emergency is declared again.
If an emergency declaration covering Tokyo and the prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa lasts a month, Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc., estimates that consumer spending will decrease by ¥3.3 trillion and 147,000 people will lose their jobs.
Department stores have been taking measures to prevent overcrowding of customers to reduce infection risks, by starting to sell fukubukuro New Year's lucky bags before the turn of the year, for example. The Seibu flagship store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district, run by Sogo & Seibu Co., opened from New Year's Day but saw its sales and the number of customers fall by half from a year before.
Supermarket chains plan to continue operating their stores while making sure infection prevention steps are implemented.
Convenience store operators are nervously watching whether a state of emergency will be declared again. An industry official said, "If the declaration is made, customer traffic that has been restored will be lost again."
The government made its first emergency declaration over COVID-19 in April last year and lifted it the following month.
The worsening of business conditions is especially serious for the restaurant industry. "We will likely accept requests that are officially made (based on the special measures law)," said a representative of a major restaurant operator. "If we are told to close by 7 p.m., we won't be able to keep our bar business running."
Nagahama said, "The transport, restaurant and hotel industries that involve people's movements and contact will be hit particularly hard by an emergency declaration."
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