Tokyo on Saturday kicked off a 20-day period during which restaurants that serve alcohol and karaoke venues have been asked by the metropolitan government to shorten business hours to help combat a recent resurgence in coronavirus infections.
The request comes two months after the lifting of a similar call and as the country the same day logged a daily figure of 2,684 new coronavirus cases and 440 cases of those with serious symptoms, both at record levels, further raising concerns about the severity of the virus.
The move comes as a blow to operators hoping for increased demand during the year-end party season and could derail the Japanese economy's nascent recovery.
The metropolitan government will provide 400,000 yen ($3,800) in financial support to each business complying with the request to close by 10 p.m. through Dec. 17. But some are undecided or will apparently refuse to do so.
"Our sales had just started recovering. I can understand why the request was made but it is difficult to comply with it during the year's busiest season," Jun Sagae, manager of a pub in Shimbashi, a popular eating area for office workers, said Friday. The pub had followed two similar requests made earlier.
Junichi Kawaguchi, who operates a restaurant serving Japanese cuisine in the Akasaka district, said while he will close shop at 10 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, on weekdays, he wonders if simply shortening operating hours would actually have any effect on preventing the spread of the virus.
A pub near Ueno Station, a busy transport hub, said Saturday it will comply with the request. "The number of customers has begun to decline again due to the resurgence of infections," one of its employees said, adding, "The 400,000 yen support is not sufficient at all. We hope that infections will settle down soon."
On Saturday, Tokyo reported 561 new daily cases after logging a record 570 cases the previous day and bringing the cumulative number to 40,210.
The Japanese capital alone has been seeing record daily numbers of new infections, topping 500 in recent days. The metropolitan government has raised its virus alert to the highest of four levels for the first time since early September.
The number of people who have developed serious COVID-19 symptoms has reached a record 440, the health ministry said Saturday, with the figure doubling in nearly half a month.
The corresponding number for Tokyo reached 67 people, the highest level since a state of emergency declared over the pandemic was lifted in late May. The rise in people with severe symptoms has prompted Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to urge particularly the elderly to refrain from going out.
Elsewhere, daily new virus cases were high on Saturday in areas such as Osaka Prefecture, which logged 463, and Hokkaido at 252.
Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said the task to reduce the number of patients with serious symptoms is not easy.
"Once those with serious symptoms increase, treatment for them will take longer, and this would require more medical workers to be involved," Wakita said.
Aichi Medical University professor Hiroshige Mikamo said at a forum on the coronavirus on Saturday that infections have "spread through all ages for the third wave" of the virus, and cases are growing again among the elderly.