West Japan Railway Co. said Wednesday it will place part of its workforce on temporary leave in February, targeting 27,500 employees to cope with a slump in travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The company known as JR West, which operates shinkansen bullet train services in some areas, said about 1,000 employees a day will be on leave between Feb. 1 and Feb. 28. The measure is the second of its kind for the Osaka-based train operator and the number of workers affected will be larger than the last time when about 18,000 were targeted.
The train operator said it is seeking to maintain employment while reducing the risk of coronavirus infections among its workers.
Travel demand has been depressed by the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the central government declaring a fresh state of emergency until Feb. 7 for 11 of the country's 47 prefectures as the country scrambles to curb coronavirus infections. Central Japan Railway Co. is also planning to have about 9,500 employees take several days off between Jan. 25 and the end of February.
Between Jan. 1 and 14, JR West saw the number of passengers using its Hokuriku and Sanyo Shinkansen lines plunge about 70 percent from a year ago.
Although hard lockdowns similar to those in countries hit hard by the virus have not been imposed, people in the targeted prefectures are asked to stay home. The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been forced to suspend its subsidy program to support local tourism.
Japan's first state of emergency over the virus was put in place last spring and JR West used the same method between May and July. At the time, maintenance staff for train tracks were not subject to the measure.