An estimated 1.46 million working-age people in Japan are living as hikikomori (social recluses), a survey by the Cabinet Office showed Friday.

The figure accounts for some 2% of the total population of people between 15 and 64 years of age in the country. Some 20% became social recluses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the survey. A Cabinet Office official warned that anyone could become a social recluse.

The estimate was based on a survey conducted in November last year on 30,000 people the ages of 10 and 69 across the country.

The survey found that 2.05% of people age 15 to 39 go out only for their hobbies, leave their rooms but stay within their homes or rarely leave their rooms for at least six months. The share stood at 2.02% for people between the ages of 40 to 64.

According to the survey, 21.5% of hikikomori between ages 15 to 39 have been socially isolated for six months to less than one year, and 21.9% of those between ages 40 and 64 have shut themselves in their homes for less than two to three years.

Asked why they became hikikomori, 20.8% of social recluses between ages 15 and 39 said they had difficulty with interpersonal relations, followed by 18.1% who cited the pandemic.

As a trigger to start social retreat, 44.5% of hikikomori between ages 40 to 64 cited leaving their jobs, followed by 20.6% who cited the pandemic.

The Cabinet Office official pointed out that people could have become socially isolated when they found it difficult to go out amid the pandemic and opted to take online classes and work from home.