Tokyo shopkeepers brace for another slowdown as coronavirus flares

TOKYO (Reuters) - Two straight days of record novel coronavirus infections in the Japanese capital have dashed shopkeepers’ hopes that business can get back to normal any time soon.

FILE PHOTO: A woman in yukata wears a protective face mask as she walks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

Tokyo reported a record daily high of 243 new infections on Friday, following 224 the day before, as authorities stepped up testing in nightlife districts.

Shota Saka said sales at his ramen noodle shop had just started to recover in June after slumping by about 40% the previous two months when Japan was under a state of emergency.

“From now on, we’ll have to live with the virus,” said Saka, 34.

Japan’s economy is expected to shrink at the fastest pace in decades in the year through March 2021, forcing the government to compile another stimulus package to cushion the blow from the coronavirus, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

For Fumiko Sekimoto, the economic cost is all too clear.

She has drastically cut back the operating hours of the sushi shop that she and her husband have operated for more than 50 years as their customers have disappeared.

“Before the pandemic, we had customers who came here all the way from Saitama and Chiba,” said Sekimoto, referring to regions north and east of Tokyo.

“Now those people have stopped coming because they don’t want to take the train.”

Yoshiaki Katsuda, a professor at Kansai University of Social Welfare, said that the spike of cases in Tokyo appears to have followed on from the reopening of businesses in the middle of June.

Although the bulk of new cases are young people, the danger is that they infect their more vulnerable parents and grandparents.

“If that happens, the burden on the medical services will increase sharply,” Katsuda said.

“I’m quite afraid of that.”


Health authorities are carrying out more than 3,000 tests a day and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike wants to increase that to 10,000.

Testing has focused on the host and hostess clubs in the nightlife districts of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.

Urologist and public health advocate Shinya Iwamuro has been going to red-light districts to press businesses to do what it takes to stop the virus.

“The concept is: ‘We’ll teach you how to prevent infection and welcome customers with peace of mind’,” said Iwamuro, known as the Condom Master for his books on sexual health.

“I’m trying to gain empathy rather than persuasion.”

Such targeting is a good strategy to keep the virus at bay as the epidemic settles into a new phase, and to stop what could be a severe second wave of infections, said Nishimura Hidekazu, the director of the Virus Research Center at Sendai Medical Center.

But a focus on nightlife could drive those businesses and infections underground while neglecting other trouble spots, said Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura.

“As far as I can see, transmission is going on in industries other than host clubs,” Nishiura said in a video on YouTube posted on Friday.

“I’m beginning to wonder whether our current measures are sufficient.”

Reporting by Rocky Swift and Junko Fujita; Editing by Robert Birsel