• Kyodo

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Streets and trains were as crowded as usual on Monday in areas subject to the nation’s third COVID-19 state of emergency, despite calls by the government for companies to implement remote working so as to curb the spread of the virus.

In Tokyo, which was placed under the state of emergency on Sunday along with the prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, commuters wearing face masks filled crosswalks in the Marunouchi business district.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike had asked people to refrain from coming to Tokyo as much as possible.

“It is impossible for me to not come to office because I work as a receptionist at a company,” said a 53-year-old woman who had commuted from Yokohama. “The train was as crowded as before the state of emergency was declared,” she added.

Company employee Keisuke Munakata, a 55-year-old resident of Tokyo, said he commutes in every day because he has many meetings to attend.

“It cannot be helped that the state of emergency was declared given the situation that coronavirus variants are spreading,” he said. “We just need to pray that the cases will decrease.”

The emergency declaration will be effective for the four prefectures for 17 days through May 11, in a bid to stem infections during the upcoming Golden Week holidays that run from late April to early May.

Near Osaka Station before 8 a.m., students queued for buses, and there was no reduction in the number of people in office attire compared to any other day.

“It seems busy as usual,” said Takeshi Yamada, a 23-year-old company employee from Kyoto, as he looked around.

“The train was crowded as usual,” said Reiko Kita, a 58-year-old part-time worker from Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture, who added that she had not been asked by her company to work remotely.

University campuses, however, were deserted, with many classes moved online.

“There was a class that might have been held in person from May but given the circumstances that may be difficult. It’s disappointing,” said a senior male student at Meiji University, who had come to the library at the university’s campus in Tokyo.

In Kyoto, the prefectural government has asked universities to limit entry of students to 50% or less.

On the quiet campus at Kyoto Sangyo University, a third-year female student said, “Compared to usual times, it seems only 10% of students are here. During the state of emergency, all of my classes are held online. It’s boring.”

Under the tougher measures implemented under the third state of emergency, large commercial facilities, theme parks, movie theaters, karaoke establishments and restaurants serving alcohol have been asked to close.

Sports events are to be held without spectators, while department stores in the designated areas are only selling food and other daily essentials.

But on Sunday, crowds were seen in some downtown areas in the four prefectures, while some eateries continued to serve alcohol despite the government’s request.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s COVID-19 response, has called on people to refrain from nonessential outings.

“I would like people to think back to last year and enforce staying at home,” he said, referring to the first state of emergency, which was declared in April last year.

On Sunday afternoon shoppers increased in some areas. In Tokyo, the majority of nondepartment stores remained open for business on the main street of the glitzy Ginza district, attracting customers.

While the government has asked establishments serving alcohol to close during the state of emergency, some eateries near Ueno Station in Tokyo were seen still providing alcoholic drinks or allowing customers to bring their own.

“I am not convinced with the explanation given to completely stop drinking, so I don’t feel like obeying,” said a 34-year-old man from Nakano Ward in the capital as he sat chatting and laughing, without a mask on, at a pub.

In the busy Dotonbori shopping district in Osaka, many eateries had complied with requests to close, but groups of people could also be spotted drinking on the streets.

Takaharu Nakajima, the manager of the Dotonbori branch of the popular Kushikatsu Daruma restaurant chain, said he had stopped serving alcohol at his store but that “there is no sense that customers have drastically decreased.”

Public transport operators such as train and bus companies have been asked to end operations earlier on weeknights, with services reduced on weekends and holidays.

While a quasi-state of emergency had been designated in the major cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as well as in Hyogo and six other prefectures earlier this month, the measures have been unsuccessful in bringing down new COVID-19 cases and easing the strain on the health care system.

On Monday, the cumulative death toll surpassed 10,000.

Among COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization, the percentage that have been admitted to a medical institution has been below 25% in Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, putting those areas at the highest severity level on a four-point scale, sources close to the matter said Sunday.

The new criterion, known as the hospitalization rate, was added to existing indicators on April 15 at a government COVID-19 task force meeting — with 40% or less considered as showing a Stage 3 situation, described as “infections are spreading,” and 25% or less considered to show a Stage 4 situation with an “explosive spread of infections.”

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