• Kyodo

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Business sentiment among workers with jobs sensitive to economic trends in Japan posted the largest rise in eight months in February, as the government began lifting its latest coronavirus state of emergency in stages amid a decline in infections, government data showed Monday.

The diffusion index of confidence in current conditions compared with three months earlier among “economy watchers” such as taxi drivers and restaurant staff rose 10.1 points from January to 41.3, according to a survey by the Cabinet Office.

The February index logged its first rise in four months, following a decrease of 3.1 the previous month, and its sharpest gain since June when the index gained a record 23.3 points.

The office upgraded its assessment of the economy for the first time in four months, saying that “although the coronavirus pandemic still has a severe impact, there are signs of picking up.”

But the index remained below the boom-or-bust line of 50 for the fourth consecutive month. A reading below 50 indicates that more respondents reported worsening conditions than improving.

Restaurants operators and some other businesses were asked to shorten their operating hours when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a second state of emergency for one month on Jan. 7 for the Tokyo metropolitan area. The premier expanded it later to a total of 11 prefectures.

The emergency declaration was lifted for Tochigi a month later and then for Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka at the end of February.

With the Tokyo metropolitan area remaining under a recently re-extended state of emergency through March 21, concerns have grown over another resurgence of infections as the pace of decline has slowed recently.

There was a slight uptick in confidence across a myriad of sectors, with a convenience store employee saying in the survey that sales were recovering from January.

However, the pandemic continued to negatively affect some others despite a decrease in infections, with the second state of emergency “leading to an increase in closed shops,” according to a real estate agent.

A restaurant worker said that customers had steadily returned after the request for shorter business hours was removed but people continued to “be inclined to refrain from going out.”

The office polled 2,050 workers from Feb. 25 to 28, of whom 1,812, or 88.4%, responded.

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