The governors of Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa enhanced their responses to the coronavirus pandemic Monday amid a resurgence of infections, less than a month after Japan fully lifted a second COVID-19 state of emergency.
The prevention measures under what is regarded as a quasi-state of emergency include asking restaurants and bars in densely populated areas to close by 8 p.m. and capping attendance at large events at 5,000. The steps will last through May 5 for Kyoto and Okinawa, and May 11 for Tokyo.
Still, trains were crowded during the morning rush hour without any apparent change in the level of activity in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Some expressed confusion over how the new measures differ from steps under a state of emergency, which also focus on curtailing operating hours for restaurants and bars and keeping down numbers at big events.
"It's repeating the same thing, but just with different wording," Chisa Imai, 59, said after arriving at JR Tokyo Station.
"I don't know what the difference between them is, and don't think it will be effective because of the rise in coronavirus variants," Imai, who commuted from Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, added.
Toshitaka Hiroi, 48, who had just finished meeting a client near the station said, "The Yamanote (train) line was just as crowded as before the measures were implemented."
"I'll continue to work from home once a week, and can only keep wearing a mask and wash my hands to be careful about preventing infections," he said.
In Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, a 61-year-old taxi driver lamented the lack of tourists on Kokusai Dori, one of the city's main shopping areas.
"Profits have dropped since the coronavirus pandemic, but the number of virus cases has been on the rise so it's inevitable that the quasi-emergency has to be put in place."
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last week decided to grant the governors of the three prefectures the authority to take tougher measures to control the spread of the virus, expanding the list of areas after designating Osaka and neighboring Hyogo prefectures as well as Miyagi in Japan's northeast through May 5.
But the central government has stopped short of declaring a third state of emergency, apparently because of potential disruption to preparations for this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
The quasi-emergency measures come despite a recent health ministry indicator showing that infections in Osaka, Hyogo, Miyagi and Okinawa have reached Stage 4, the worst level on the central government's scale that warrants declaring a state of emergency. The conditions in Tokyo and Kyoto were judged as equivalent to Stage 3.
The measures, which opposition parties have criticized for being difficult to understand, also carry a fine for businesses that ignore orders to shorten operating hours. But the amount is smaller than under a state of emergency.
The central government introduced the quasi-state of emergency through a legal revision in February as a way to take targeted steps to bring down infections while keeping the economy going as much as possible. Governors can now designate cities and towns for stricter measures, unlike a full-fledged emergency, which covers entire prefectures.
Suga has called on people to refrain from nonessential travel between prefectures, expressing concern that highly contagious variants of the virus could spread during the Golden Week holidays from late April through early May, one of the busiest periods for travel in the country.