TOKYO - Tokyo and six other prefectures entered their first weekend under a state of emergency on Saturday, with authorities strengthening calls for people to stay home and for nonessential businesses to temporarily shutter to curb the coronavirus' spread in Japan.
Areas around Shinjuku Station in Tokyo that are normally packed with shoppers appeared semi-deserted with department stores and restaurants closed for business.
"I came to the office because my work is piling up. It's the first time I've seen Shinjuku so empty on a weekend," said a Shinjuku Ward office employee in her 50s.
The lack of people in one of the Japanese capital's major transport hubs was further demonstrated by a timetable screen at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal which showed the majority of scheduled buses had vacant seats.
Atsushi Ushijima, a 52-year-old from Ishikawa Prefecture who manages a rental car-related business, said that the declaration has prompted many people to leave urban areas, meaning more rental cars than normal are being dropped off in regional areas.
In stark contrast to a normal spring, nobody was sitting beneath the cherry blossoms Saturday alongside the Okawa River in Osaka. People either walked or jogged alone to maintain the social distancing that has become so important to slow the virus' spread.
"I don't recall so few people being around at this time (of the year)," said Shigeyuki Mori, 69, from the western Japan city's Kita Ward.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and the nearby prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba as well as Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures.
The decision came due to fears a recent sharp uptrend in the number of new cases in urban areas could lead to the healthcare system becoming dangerously strained.
The declaration, effective till May 6, seeks to reduce person-to-person contact by 70 to 80 percent from usual to prevent an explosive surge in infections.
Major department stores and restaurant chains were among the first to suspend operations, while many stores providing daily necessities, such as supermarkets and drugstores, remained open.
On Saturday, the number of customers at a supermarket in Chiba, east of Tokyo, did not appear to have changed much despite the issuance of the emergency declaration.
"It seems our customers have gotten used to the confusion (about the virus) as it draws out," the 45-year-old store manager said. "And they have calmed down, too."
The supermarket has a sufficient supply of meat, vegetables and other foodstuffs, but face masks are sold out.
In Fukuoka, many shops and restaurants in the southwestern Japan city's Tenjin district were closed. "I see far fewer young people out here," Satoshi Hayashida, a 67-year-old bus company employee, said.
Requests for businesses in six industries, including karaoke venues and bars, to suspend operations took effect in Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures from midnight Friday.
Medical institutions, banks and other businesses deemed essential for daily life were exempted.
Similar requests will take effect in Saitama Prefecture from midnight Sunday, while Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures will decide their responses on Monday.