Tokyo asks people to stay home amid virus, many venture out
TOKYO (Reuters) – People in greater Tokyo and the Osaka area in western Japan hunkered down on Saturday as officials urged citizens to stay indoors to prevent a potential emergency, but some were carrying on as normal. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s plea for the tens of millions of people in the capital and surrounding regions to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12, and particularly this weekend, followed a surge in coronavirus infections this week that she said put Tokyo on the brink of an emergency. Koike urged the public to avoid the national pastime of congregating to drink and watch the cherry blossoms as they hit their peak in the capital, saying on Friday, “The cherry blossoms will bloom again next year.” Infections in Japan have climbed to more than 1,400, with 47 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month. Hit early by the coronavirus in its initial spread from China, Japan had seen a more gradual rise than the recent surge in much of Europe and the United States. This week, however, saw an acceleration that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called “a national crisis”. Infections on Friday rose by a daily record 102, said public broadcaster NHK. Tokyo reported 40 new cases on Friday, bringing its total to 299. While those figures are not high for a city of nearly 14 million, with many millions more in neighbouring suburbs, experts warn of a high risk of an explosive rise in infections, since authorities have not been able to track all the contacts of more than half the newest cases. The government has deployed the military to greater Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports to assist in virus screenings and the transport of people placed in quarantine, NHK said. The voluntary calls by Koike and other Japanese leaders for people to stay at home compares with the more rigours lockdowns in major cities in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and the United States - the new global epicentre of the virus. Globally, infections have topped half a million with more than 20,000 deaths, with the contagion affecting more than 100 countries. Abe, who has not declared a national state of emergency, is expected to order economic steps including $135 billion or more in spending, government officials and lawmakers say, joining policymakers globally trying to blunt a downturn. In a quiet neighbourhood close to the prime minister’s private residence in central Tokyo, the scene was typical of a Saturday morning. Some people were jogging and walking their dogs. A few stopped to pray at a local shrine. Auto traffic was brisk on local roads. “I’m a little worried, but I have an appointment today, which is why I’m outside,” said a 41-year old man walking down the street, who declined to be named. “It’s not something that I can’t cancel, but I do have to meet someone. I will be riding the train later.” Trains weren’t empty but were far less crowded than on a normal weekend. Some department stores, movie theatres, museums and parks closed, but many supermarkets and convenience stores were open as usual. In Setagaya, a popular residential area in western Tokyo, many restaurants and shops were shut, although those that were open were doing brisk business, including an Italian restaurant that was filled with some young families and older couples. Nearby, labourers worked on a construction site as if it were a normal day.