About 60 percent of people in Japan who developed cold-like symptoms during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic between February and May went to work, despite the government's request not to do so, a recent survey found.

Of 1,226 people aged between 20 and 79 living in Tokyo and neighboring areas who responded to the survey, 82 said they had fevers and other cold-like symptoms, which could have been early signs of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

In the online survey conducted in mid-May by a team led by Masaki Machida, an assistant professor at Tokyo Medical University, 62 percent of those who did not feel well said they went to work during the period, while 17 percent said they either stayed home or only went out to go to a hospital.

Commuters go to work in Tokyo on June 12, 2020, wearing face masks amid continued worries over the novel coronavirus. (Kyodo)

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The survey showed that company employees and those with professions that are not seen as compatible with teleworking tended to go to work as usual despite the government's request on Feb. 17 for people to rest at home if they were in poor health.

It also found people from Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma -- prefectures not sharing borders with Tokyo -- were more inclined to go to the office even with cold-like symptoms, possibly because the number of COVID-19 infections was relatively low in those areas at the time.

"Staying at home when people are not feeling well is very important to avoid the spread of infections while continuing with economic activity," the team led by Machida said in reporting the survey results. "The social environment should be improved to make it easier for such people to get rest."

Of the 82 who showed cold-like symptoms, 71 percent said they went out for grocery shopping and 21 percent dined out.

Respondents were able to choose multiple answers. It is unknown whether any of them were infected with the novel coronavirus.