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Large numbers of people on Saturday flooded transport hubs in major population centers across Japan despite the government designating Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures as requiring more stringent coronavirus countermeasures just a day earlier.

The government response puzzled some travelers while others questioned the need for authorities to ask people to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders.

The government took action as Osaka and the wider Kansai area in the west have experienced a surge in numbers of people infected with COVID-19 variants.

“I did not expect measures would be extended to Okinawa,” said a 52-year-old woman as she readied to depart Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on a two-day trip to the popular tourist destination in Japan’s south.

“I’ll keep my fun to a minimum,” added the woman who lives in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.

A 49-year-old man from Saitama Prefecture, meanwhile, expressed frustration while he waited to travel to the southwestern city of Fukuoka to attend a memorial service with his wife and three children.

“I cannot miss it, so I have to go even under such a situation,” the man said at the airport.

He questioned whether the government’s decision to impose a quasi-state of emergency over the virus is worthwhile.

“I’ll just have to make sure to wear a face mask and disinfect thoroughly,” he said.

Travelers line up at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Saturday morning. | KYODO
Travelers line up at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Saturday morning. | KYODO

The airport and the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal were busy with travelers seemingly ignoring the government’s request for people to not make unnecessary outings due to the worsening situation.

At the express bus terminal near Shinjuku Station, Rieko Fukushima, a 59-year-old woman heading for orchestra practice to Chiba Prefecture said her group shortened their practice plans but did not cancel them.

“I have worries, but I want to build relationships with others in the orchestra,” Fukushima said.

In the capital’s bustling Harajuku district, home to the world-famous Takeshita shopping street, many young people and families were shopping and eating out, although the area is still less crowded than before the pandemic.

“I don’t know the difference between the measures this time and from the state of emergency, so I don’t know what to do,” said a 19-year-old vocational school student who was shopping with her friend. “I don’t think politicians have fully explained the issue to us.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government on Friday added Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa to the list of prefectures requiring stronger virus countermeasures under a quasi-state of emergency.

The measures will come into effect Monday and last through May 5 for Kyoto, western Japan, and Okinawa, and May 11 for Tokyo.

The quasi-emergency measures have already been in place in the neighboring prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo as well as in Miyagi in Japan’s northeast, set to run through May 5.

Local authorities can ask restaurants and bars in densely populated areas to close by 8 p.m. under the countermeasures, which carry a fine for noncompliance.

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