NAGOYA/OSAKA – The sentiment among businesses, citizens and even governors was mixed in the six prefectures that are set to have their COVID-19 state of emergency lifted at the end of the month.
While some welcomed the move in the hopes it would help revive their economies, others expressed concerns that lifting the declaration too soon in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka could lead to a resurgence of infections in those areas.
The six prefectures plan to ask eating and drinking establishments to close by 9 p.m., one hour later than under the emergency. Businesses will be paid a daily sum of ¥40,000 for their cooperation.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura stressed that the prefecture will gradually loosen the request and other coronavirus restrictions for its capital, depending on the infection situation, adding that it is crucial to balance social and economic activities with measures to reduce infections.
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who on Monday asked the central government to lift the declaration, said that restaurants and other establishments will be asked to close by 9 p.m. until March 14.
Omura again called on citizens not to go out for nonessential purposes or travel across prefectural borders.
Sources close to the matter said Omura had sought to request that the central government lift the declaration even earlier, around Feb. 13, but abandoned the plan after he was unable to win support from medical advisers.
However, Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta has taken a more cautious stance. With a hospital in the prefecture currently in the midst of a large cluster outbreak, he said, "We need to remain on guard. A (large) cluster infection can occur at any hospital."
A woman in her 40s working in a clinic in the city of Gifu also expressed concern, saying, "I hope there won't be another spike in cases."
Although Furuta had previously indicated the state of emergency should be lifted in his prefecture at the same time as Aichi, he did not make any direct requests for the central government to do so.
Following the lifting of the emergency declaration, the Nagoya branch of department store chain Matsuzakaya and various restaurant chains plan to shift their closing times by an hour to 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, Meitetsu Department Store Co. said it plans to keep the shortened hours in place for the time being as it does not expect to see customers returning all at once.
A 17-year-old high school student who was dining out with a friend in downtown Nagoya on Friday said she went out because she felt the declaration would be lifted soon. "It has been rough staying in all this time, and everyone around me has also relaxed," she said.
In Osaka, a restaurant owner in his 40s in the city's Minami entertainment district welcomed the move, saying, "One hour is a big plus for restaurants."
But the 54-year-old owner of an izakaya pub in Minami's bustling Dotonbori area was less optimistic. "What difference will the one-hour extension make?" he said. He hopes for a further easing so that he can keep his place open until 10 p.m.
Keisuke Ishikawa, the 51-year-old vice president of the local shopping district association in Arashiyama, a popular Kyoto tourist spot, welcomed the lifting of the declaration but said it was questionable whether it would result in an increase in visitors to the area.
Others worried that the end of the emergency could undo efforts to curb infections.
Kazuhiro Nakamura, 49, manager at an accommodation facility near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, voiced concerns that an increase in the number of travelers following the removal of the state of emergency may trigger a fourth wave of the virus.
The six prefectures will be removed from the emergency on Monday, a week earlier than the scheduled end date of March 7, as infections have declined and the strain on hospitals has eased.
Attendance restrictions on large-scale events will also be eased after the removal of the state of emergency.
Universal Studios Japan in the city of Osaka said that it is thankful for the relaxed restrictions, which will allow more guests to enjoy the theme park.
Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama have seen some improvement in their situations but will remain under the state of emergency for the time being.
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