Coronavirus: Tokyo asks eateries to shut at 8pm

Tokyo requested the closure of a range of businesses including nightclubs, gyms and movie theaters. PHOTO: NYTIMES

TOKYO - Residents of Japan's capital will, for now, not be able to satiate their late-night cravings for yakitori (skewered meat), gyudon (beef bowl) or ramen, unless they order takeout.

Under new guidelines, all eateries in Tokyo, including izakaya pubs, can allow dine-in service only between 5am and 8pm until the state of emergency is lifted. Sales of alcohol should stop by 7pm at all such eateries.

These were among a series of far-reaching measures unveiled by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike yesterday, after days of bickering with the national government over the extent of requested business closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's crucial that we do everything we can over the next month to stop the virus from spreading further," she said, adding that her responsibility was to Tokyo's 14 million people.

Japan's sprawling capital saw 189 new cases yesterday, setting a daily high for three straight days and bringing its total to 1,708 cases.

The Straits Times understands there was frustration in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government over a perceived "lack of urgency and sense of crisis" among national leaders, who initially did not want any business closures for two weeks.

This was despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, covering seven prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka.

Hokkaido, which saw relative success in its own three-week state of emergency ending March 19, is now seeing a second wave of cases imported from elsewhere in Japan.

Meanwhile, Aichi, Kyoto and Gifu have taken to declaring their own state of emergency after being shut out by the national government, which says the situation does not yet warrant such a decree.

And, fearful that those from hard-hit areas will seek a "corona-free" holiday, governors of areas from Okayama to Okinawa have warned outsiders to stay away.

There were 455 new cases nationwide as at 8pm last night, bringing the overall total to 6,003 cases. Shimane and Tottori recorded their first cases this week, leaving Iwate as the last prefecture out of Japan's 47 regions without a single case.

People at the Shibuya Scramble Crossing at about 5.30pm on April 10, 2020. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

Japan's state of emergency law leaves it up to prefecture governors to decide on measures such as requested business closures.

There are also no criminal penalties for businesses that do not comply with official requests, though they risk bad publicity as local governments can name such firms.

But the central government intervened after Ms Koike wanted far more extensive closures than it envisioned, fearing the devastating economic impact and afraid that they will backfire and cause people to flee to less-hit rural regions.

And despite demands by prefecture governors, the central government does not want to compensate businesses hit by closure.

This has led to a hotchpotch of uncoordinated policies that vary between porous prefectural borders.

Kanagawa and Saitama, south and north of Tokyo respectively, intend to fall in line with Ms Koike's measures but Chiba, to the east of the capital, will not.

Tokyo and Kanagawa plan to compensate businesses in their jurisdictions that comply with requests to close, but it is unclear if others will follow suit.

Ms Koike has requested businesses in six categories to shut:

(i) amusement facilities such as bars and karaoke joints;

(ii) education facilities such as private universities and cram schools;

(iii) indoor sports and recreation facilities such as bowling alleys and pachinko parlours;

(iv) cinemas and theatres;

(v) exhibition halls, art galleries and museums; and

(vi) commercial facilities that are non-essential services.

Mr Abe's goal is to reduce human interaction by at least 70 per cent.

Footfall has generally decreased, but there were still crowds, albeit thinner, at the Shibuya Scramble Crossing yesterday evening.

What was more disconcerting was the scene at the food hall at the Tokyu Shibuya Department Store. It was jam-packed with people without any social distancing.

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