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An influx of people into Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures slowed in 2020, apparently influenced by a high number of coronavirus cases reported in the capital and the ability to work remotely.

While people moving into Tokyo still outnumbered those leaving by 31,125, down 51,857 from the previous year, the surplus was the smallest since 2014 when the survey under the current format was first conducted, government data showed Friday.

Together with Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, the inflow of people into the metropolitan area surpassed outflow by 99,243, a fall from 148,783 in the previous year.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the inflow of people into Tokyo exceeded the outflow in March by 40,199, but the outflow rose and inflow fell starting in April, when the government declared its first state of emergency to stem the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Many people typically move in March for employment and enrollment in schools as the country’s fiscal and academic years start in April.

In the six-month period to December, outflow surpassed inflow every month in Tokyo, where the highest number of infections has been confirmed among the country’s 47 prefectures.

Although many people who moved out of Tokyo last year remained in its neighboring prefectures, some economists predict the trend of relocating to rural areas will be intensified as teleworking has become a widespread practice in the country.

Yutaka Okada, a senior researcher at Mizuho Research Institute, said it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to hire talented workers without introducing remote work.

“Over-concentration of people in Tokyo will be eased as a result of the acceleration of the trend,” he said.

The Tokyo metropolitan area saw migration losses in a total of four months — July, August, November and December — when the region was hit by waves of infections, which stagnated the movement of people across the country.

The margin of decrease in migration surplus in the region was the largest in recent years, eclipsing a fall of 34,235 recorded in 2009, when the economy slumped due to the global financial crisis.

The government aims to balance the inflow and outflow of people in the Tokyo area by fiscal 2024. Inflow has surpassed outflow for 25 consecutive years.

By prefecture, inflow outnumbered outflow in Shiga, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa, in addition to the four in the capital region, with 39 prefectures posting a net loss, the data showed.

The ministry has included data on foreign residents since 2014 in the statistics on inter-municipality migration.

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