TOKYO (Reuters) - Residents of the Japanese capital formed long queues at supermarkets and stores on Friday, in preparation for a weekend at home, after Tokyo’s governor urged them to stay indoors in a bid to keep a coronavirus from spreading.
The governor’s plea to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12, and particularly this weekend, prompted a rush for supplies of everything from instant noodles to toiletries and fresh produce, despite warnings against hoarding.
“If convenience stores and supermarkets stay open, people will stay calm,” said Yuri Inoue, a 31-year-old graphic designer, who admitted to being a “panic buyer”.
“The government should emphasize that point more strongly,” she told Reuters, adding that had stored two weeks of supplies to allay the concerns of her parents.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike appealed for calm, while repeating her request to avoid public gatherings at the weekend.
“But I am saying you can go to supermarkets to buy food or medicines or go to hospitals,” she told a city government meeting.
“I would like to ask Tokyo citizens for calm behaviour.”
A surge in infections this week, with 40 new cases on Friday, has carried Tokyo’s tally to 299.
While the figure is not high for a city of nearly 14 million, experts have warned of a high risk of an “overshoot”, or explosive rise, since authorities have not been able to track all the contacts of more than half the newest cases.
Tokyo has also urged people not to congregate in parks for the famed traditional viewing of springtime cherry blossoms, and plans to shut zoos and aquariums for two weeks.
Koike asked people to wait until next year to glimpse the flowers, adding, “The cherry blossoms will bloom again next year.”
Parts of three of the city’s parks will be closed to the public until after the flower-viewing season, a Tokyo government official told Reuters, without specifying the dates.
The governor of Japan’s Osaka prefecture, Hirofumi Yoshimura, asked residents on Friday to refrain from making non-essential outings this weekend, Kyodo news reported, joining Tokyo.
Some 13 regional prefectures, including Miyagi in the north and Shimane to the west, have asked people to refrain from traveling to Tokyo, according to Kyodo.
Japan’s virus infections have climbed to more than 1,400, with 47 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month. Globally, infections have topped half a million, with more than 24,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to order the preparation of an economic package with spending of $135 billion or more, government officials and lawmakers say, joining global policymakers in rolling out fiscal stimulus to avert a downturn.
Japan does not yet require declaration of a state of emergency, however, Abe said on Friday, but if announced, media said, it could prompt a 21-day lockdown of regions with numerous infections.
During the morning rush hour, some subway lines in central Tokyo usually crowded with commuters standing elbow-to-elbow were visibly less crowded, and some even had vacant seats.
A truck driver said he had worked 12- to 13-hour shifts each day for the past month, delivering toilet paper and tissue to drug stores, compared to five-day weeks of 9 to 10 hour shifts before the hoarding began.
“It’s been tough,” he told Reuters, declining to give his name. “This job involves a lot of lifting, so I don’t know how long my body can last at this pace.”
Others worried about losing work as economic activity slows.
“If I stay at home, I’ll just worry about things: money, the virus, making a living,” said taxi driver Takahiko Nihei. “But if I get out and around, I can forget this for a while.”
Reporting by Ju-min Park, Elaine Lies, Naomi Tajitsu, Hiroko Hamada, Yuki Nitta, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Fumika Inoue, David Dolan, Sakura Murakami; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez