• Kyodo, Jiji


Restaurant and hotel operators in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures expressed disappointment Thursday after the government designated the areas for stronger measures against COVID-19, cases of which are rising there, as well as hope that the measures will not be prolonged.

A bar owner in his 40s in Kobe, a popular tourist destination in Japan, expressed dismay at the measures, which will be effective from April 5 for one month — a period that includes the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May, one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

The designation is “just a short-term solution,” he said. The measures include fines for eateries that ignore orders to shorten operating hours, as well as an attendance limit for large events.

The manager of an izakaya pub in the busy Minami district of the city of Osaka said angrily, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Along with other eating and drinking establishments, the izakaya Japanese-style pubs had only just extended their operating hours, by one hour until 9 p.m., on March 1 after a state of emergency over the virus in Osaka Prefecture and five other western and southwestern prefectures was lifted.

But now the central government has decided to implement quasi-emergency measures, the request for ending daily operations by 8 p.m. will soon be reinstated — creating an existential challenge once again for many eateries and bars.

“The government shouldn’t have lifted the emergency,” said the izakaya manager, in his 50s. “I’ve kept on doing business single-mindedly, but I can’t do it anymore.”

A representative of a major eatery chain questioned the effectiveness of the measure in reducing the number of cases, saying, “I wonder if our sacrifice in sales will bear fruit.”

Hiroyuki Fukano, a senior official at the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, criticized authorities’ response to the virus crisis.

Rather than repeatedly requesting people’s self-restraint, they “should have taken highly effective measures in a short period.”

Meanwhile, Yoshinobu Mezaki, 51, who runs a blowfish nabe hot pot dish restaurant in Osaka, threw his support behind the stricter steps and expressed willingness to cooperate.

“(Authorities) are balancing economic and pandemic response measures,” he said.

“We have no other way but to accept the request,” said a representative of Osaka-based Gourmet Kineya Co., which operates Japanese noodle restaurant chains, in a resigned tone. “What we can do right now is to wait for vaccinations to contain the pandemic.”

“I thought this would happen at some point,” said 44-year-old Takashi Yamaguchi, who works at a Thai restaurant in Osaka. “Pandemic measures remain inconsistent in stores, and there are still many people who don’t wear masks when they go outside.”

Hiroaki Tamura, 50, who operates a restaurant serving oden traditional Japanese stew could not hide his surprise at the government’s abrupt decision to introduce the measures, saying that many people in the country still do not even know what they are.

Kyohei Kuroda, 32, manager of a craft beer bar, showed his dissatisfaction, saying, “I want to tell them to give us a break.

“We need to hang in there with the belief that customers will come back someday,” he added.

In the Akiu hot spring resort in Sendai, Kanzaburo Sato, the president of Hotel Sakan, lamented the timing of the decision.

“People were just beginning to feel optimistic” with the cherry blossom season and the start of the Olympic torch relay, he said, adding that they would “definitely be less motivated” to travel now.

Similar sentiment was also expressed in Tokyo, which is not covered by the measures but has been experiencing growing fears of another resurgence of infections.

The designated measures “will probably be implemented soon in Tokyo as well,” said 49-year-old Tokuharu Hirayama, who operates an izakaya Japanese-style pub in the capital’s business district of Shinbashi.

Okinawa Prefecture, which has also seen a rapid rise in new cases, was among the areas under consideration for the measures although it was not included in the most recent order.

“(The measures) should be employed if they are implemented in a concentrated way,” said a 49-year-old restaurant worker in Naha, the prefecture’s capital.

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