• Kyodo

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A city in the Tohoku region has recently cautioned the media over the use of the shortened popularized moniker “manbō” — a play on words that can mean both stronger antivirus measures and an ocean sunfish that has symbolized the city’s post-disaster reconstruction.

The warning came in a document distributed by Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, that says the use of the moniker could diminish the seriousness of the central government’s move to designate Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures for stronger measures set to be put in place to halt rising COVID-19 cases.

The measures, including fines for restaurants and drinking establishments that ignore mandates to shortened operating hours, were to enter into effect from Monday for one month in six cities in the prefectures. The designation was made as the three prefectures continue to experience a surge in virus numbers, with Osaka logging a record 666 infections Saturday.

The city said the wordplay could “negatively affect the image of the popular ocean sunfish, as well as a recovering roadside facility (in Kesennuma)” that uses the sunfish as its logo. The sunfish lives in the area’s waters.

Kesennuma is one of the areas hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked the region.

The phrase had been used as an unofficial nickname by experts starting from around February. It was further popularized after Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s COVID-19 subcommittee, repeatedly used it in a news conference with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on March 18, when the government made the decision to lift the state of emergency in the Tokyo area.

The manbō moniker — which has prompted some people to associate the bolstered virus measures with the large, slow-moving fish — caused a stir on social media, with one Twitter user criticizing the “lack of a sense of crisis” in using such nickname, saying, “Why abbreviate?”

It also garnered criticism from Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of the country’s coronavirus response, who called it “silly” and “lacking in gravity.”

At a news conference on Friday, Omi admitted that the nickname was “inappropriate” and said he would refrain from using it.

Tsutomu Hatakeyama, director of Kesennuma’s tourist division, said: “It may be oversensitive, but we want to avoid associating the sunfish with the coronavirus.”

Masamichi Onodera, who manages the city’s roadside facility with a sunfish logo, said while the nickname may be taken as having an optimistic spin on the recent antivirus measures, he “also understands how the city felt.”

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