Tokyo urges shorter times for bars and restaurants, officials warn of virus spread

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Japanese capital will urge shorter working hours for bars and restaurants and ask residents to stay indoors as much as possible in “tough, concentrated action” to tame a spike in coronavirus cases, Tokyo’s governor said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk on the street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

The curbs are among Japan’s latest to rein in its highest surge in infections yet, with daily tallies exceeding 500 on several recent days in Tokyo. The city had 54 serious cases on Wednesday, the most since a state of emergency was lifted in May.

“We need to have everybody cooperate to prevent further spread of the virus in a tough, concentrated way,” Governor Yuriko Koike told a news conference.

“We realize this is an extremely important time of year for business owners, but if we don’t stop this now it’s just going to keep going.”

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura warned that medical resources were becoming strained in parts of the country and the next three weeks would be critical to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and stronger infection measures were needed to avoid another state of emergency.

The western city of Osaka, which is among areas grappling with a similar surge in cases, was, along with the northern city of Sapporo, one of two areas for which a domestic “Go To Travel” promotion campaign was partially halted on Tuesday.

Osaka is also asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours, with Governor Ichiro Matsui saying the measure was needed to reduce the burden on medical workers, whose numbers are limited - a view echoed by medical officials.

“We must not get used to the coronavirus, and we must not underestimate it,” said Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association.

The travel promotion offering fare and hotel discounts is part of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s efforts to boost regional economies but has been criticised over the risk that it could carry the virus from major cities to the countryside.

Nobody has yet mentioned pausing the programme in Tokyo, though Koike said a different programme unique to the capital would be temporarily halted.

Tokyo’s tally of new daily infections stood at 401 on Wednesday, with national figures around 1,500. The total death toll is slightly over 2,000.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: here)

($1 = 104.4000 yen)

Additional reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Kim Coghill and Bernadette Baum