Japan will allow governors of all 47 prefectures to "strongly request" that their residents refrain from visiting nightclubs, hostess bars and busy downtown spots in a push to prevent cluster infections of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday.
At present, Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures for which Abe declared a state of emergency over the surge in virus infections are subject to the request. In Tokyo alone, more than 190 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Saturday, a record daily increase for the fourth straight day.
The request made by Abe at a meeting on coronavirus countermeasures on the same day, however, is not legally binding.
During the meeting, the government revised its basic policy to fight the virus so that the governors of the 40 other prefectures can issue the request in a stronger fashion.
Seeing that the reduction in commuters to work now is still not enough, Abe urged businesses in the seven prefectures to basically practice working at home. "Should there be a need to go to work, commuters are to be reduced by at least 70 percent," he said.
( A karaoke box is closed in the western Japan city of Osaka.)
The prime minister has been calling for reducing person-to-person contact by as much as 80 percent.
While the current policy says authorities can ask the public to refrain from going out, the revision would further clarify containment measures, although likely still on a voluntary basis.
According to experts, nightclubs and hostess bars provide an environment ripe for infection as crowds are crammed into an enclosed space in close contact.
Contact tracing is also difficult for clusters that arise from such situations.
For Tokyo, Osaka and the five other prefectures for which a state of emergency has been declared, the basic policy dictates that government officials can "strongly" urge residents to refrain from going to restaurants and bars with female companions for male customers, regardless of age.
In addition to nightclubs, Tokyo has also requested karaoke venues and internet cafes to suspend operations during the state of emergency.
Chiba Prefecture, which is also covered under the state of emergency, on Saturday reversed its earlier position and now says it will also request facilities to suspend operations as early as next week.
"If only Chiba operates (as usual), people may possibly rush here," Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita said. The prefecture is now in step with Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures, also under the state of emergency, in making similar requests.
Prefectural governors have been calling for state compensation for businesses that may be asked to halt operations. On Saturday, the central government again reiterated it will not do so.
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