Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Thursday requested residents limit the frequency of grocery shopping to every three days as part of steps to prevent supermarkets becoming too crowded amid the coronavirus epidemic.
While crowds in busy downtown areas have fallen after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's declaration of a state of emergency and government stay-at-home requests, concerns have been raised about an increase in the number of people in suburban shopping centers and supermarkets.
(Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike meets the press at the metropolitan government office in Tokyo on April 23, 2020.)
At the extraordinary press conference, Koike also stressed the need to partner with supermarket industry bodies to plan ways to reduce overcrowding.
The suggested measures include informing customers of the quietest times, limiting the number of shopping baskets, setting aside times for the elderly and disabled, suspending bonus-point campaigns for certain days and times, and alternating when shelves are restocked to prevent lines forming before opening.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura on Thursday said he will also request supermarket operators to set aside times for the elderly, with guidelines on limiting the number of shoppers to be finalized Friday.
Koike had earlier said the enforcement of stricter rules, such as spreading the flow of customers by using specific time slots and limiting the number of people from each household going to the shops, may be necessary.
But international political scientist Ruri Miura has questioned the necessity of Koike's latest request, saying she "lacked the imagination" to see its repercussions.
"In the latter half of March when the governor mentioned a lockdown, it resulted in panic buying at supermarkets and other stores. The governor has a lot of authority, so her words can create difficulties in running businesses and destroy the livelihood of people," Miura said.
The city was initially considering more specific measures such as different time slots for shopping. But businesses argued against this, saying it would be hard to do the same for all stores. The measures would also not be legally binding, making it difficult to make the public comply with such rules.
Koike also said at Thursday's press conference that the metropolitan government will pay an incentive to shopping centers which have initiated collective business suspensions across all stores.
Although the amount and other details are still to be finalized, the city plans to subsidize the cost of banners, flyers and other initiatives requesting people avoid close contact with each other.
Meanwhile, the stay-at-home requests will remain in effect over the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May.
Koike has additionally requested that companies implement a 12-day holiday during Golden Week, prevent their employees from going to the office and promote teleworking.
"This year it's not 'Golden Week' but 'stay at home week.' I want to ask (Tokyo) residents to refrain from nonessential travel, and especially to refrain from going to sightseeing spots in other prefectures," she said.
Tokyo will hold a campaign on the matter with the surrounding Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, she added.
Hakone Mayor Nobuo Yamaguchi at a press conference Thursday requested people not visit his town during the holidays, which usually sees around 120,000 people per day at this time of year.
"As a sightseeing spot it is heartbreaking, but we made this request in the hopes that the coronavirus will be contained as soon as possible," he said.
Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu the same day postponed the opening of two prefectural roads connecting the base of Mt. Fuji to its fifth station following the nationwide extension of the state of emergency declaration. The roads, which remain closed over winter, were originally scheduled to reopen on April 24.
Meanwhile, Tokyo has decided to close parking lots and playgrounds at city parks as part of measures to reduce crowding in public areas.
The operator of the cable car at Mt. Takao, a popular recreational and hiking spot on the outskirts of Tokyo, has also agreed to suspend its service from April 25 to May 6, Koike said.
Tokyo confirmed 134 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 3,572. It also reported six fatalities, including that of 63-year-old actress Kumiko Okae, taking the capital's death toll from the pneumonia-causing virus to 87.