• Kyodo


Stronger measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus officially started Monday in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures as part of efforts to stem a sharp resurgence in infections in the three areas.

The steps, effective for one month until May 5, include fines for restaurants that ignore orders to shorten operating hours and requirements for customers to wear masks when patronizing such establishments.

The three prefectures are the first to be designated as being on the brink of a state of emergency under a revised law that took effect in February. Specifically, the city of Osaka and nearby Kobe, Ashiya, Nishinomiya and Amagasaki, as well as Sendai, will be subject to the stronger measures.

In Osaka’s Umeda entertainment district, an izakaya pub put up a sign urging customers to wear masks when they talk, even if they are eating. Owner Masakazu Nishimura said his izakaya had taken steps such as installing hand sanitizers and acrylic boards to prevent droplets transmission, and started calling for customers to wear face masks from Monday.

“Restaurants and bars are shouldering a risk, as it costs a lot to take preventive measures,” he said, adding he hopes customers will cooperate with the quasi-emergency steps.

Some local residents in the prefectures have raised doubts about the efficacy of the new steps as people tire of following anti-virus measures.

At JR Sannomiya Station in the center of Kobe, Tomomi Okawa, a 46-year-old nurse working at a care facility for older people, said, “I feel like authorities are leaving everything up to individuals’ efforts.”

The start of the measures comes as new infections in Osaka continue to eclipse those of Tokyo, with the prefecture on Sunday confirming 593 new coronavirus cases after reporting a single-day record of 666 cases the previous day.

Osaka and Miyagi prefectures have reached Stage 4, the worst level on the government’s four-point scale, for the volume of weekly infection cases per 100,000 people, while Hyogo stands at Stage 3, according to the health ministry.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said the prefecture will be a test case for the implementation of the new measures. “We will do all we can to get the situation under control as soon as possible,” he said at a news conference Monday.

On Sunday, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters that he wanted to “somehow” stop the resurgence with “concentrated efforts.”

Under the quasi-emergency measures, restaurants and bars in the six cities will be asked to close by 8 p.m. and could be slapped with a fine of up to ¥200,000 for noncompliance. They will also be asked to remove customers who refuse to cooperate and to install acrylic sheets to prevent droplet infections.

Stores that comply with the requests will be paid between ¥40,000 to ¥200,000 per day depending on their past sales. Authorities will increase patrols to check that establishments are adequately carrying out prevention measures.

Attendance at large events such as concerts and sports games will also be capped at 5,000, with the public asked to refrain from nonessential outings.

“Infections are spreading at workplaces and universities, and there are many people whose transmission routes are unknown. (Restrictions) on dining establishments alone won’t stem the spread,” a senior official of the Osaka Prefectural Government said.

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