Japan forges ahead with reopening economy even as virus cases surge

A security person in Tokyo reminding people about measures against the coronavirus. Japan is trying to balance containment efforts with economic revival. PHOTO: REUTERS
A security person in Tokyo reminding people about measures against the coronavirus. Japan is trying to balance containment efforts with economic revival. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Japan is forging ahead with further steps to reopen its economy even as daily coronavirus cases continue to climb, with a record 243 infections reported yesterday.

The country will begin allowing events of up to 5,000 people, including sporting events and musical concerts. It is the latest easing of guidelines and comes after businesses have almost fully reopened since a state of emergency ended towards the end of May.

Japan is also moving to holding discussions with some countries on gradually lifting strict travel bans that remain in place, according to local media reports.

Countries around the globe are seeking to reopen their battered economies after an initial success with virus-prevention efforts, only to wrestle with new clusters of infections. Japan's flare-up is part of a resurgence in cases from Hong Kong to Melbourne.

Rather than resort to full-blown lockdowns, many are seeking targeted approaches allowing their economies to continue recovering.

Mr Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan's coronavirus response, said yesterday that the country must continuously balance containing the virus and economic well-being.

"Protecting lives is the most important," said Mr Nishimura. "On the other hand, to make a living, expanding economic activity, is also a must. We need to do both, it's not a choice of one or the other."

Tokyo confirmed a daily record of 243 cases yesterday, Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

That surpasses the daily record of 224 cases on Thursday and is higher than any daily reported cases during the state of emergency.

Infections in the country's capital city have surged from only a handful several weeks ago, with daily cases recently topping 100 for six days in a row.

Despite the recent outbreak, officials have repeatedly emphasised that there will be no changes to Japan's reopening plans.

Government officials have reasoned that there is no need to introduce new restrictions as the surge in coronavirus cases is tied to increased testing, mainly around nightclubs that have become a source of recent infections, and most infection routes are traceable.

The medical system is also not under any strain, though officials have said they are aiming to strengthen preparedness. Mr Nishimura said the virus is also not spreading nationally, noting that about 20 out of the country's 47 prefectures and areas had not reported any new cases in the past week. BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2020, with the headline 'Japan forges ahead with reopening economy even as virus cases surge'. Subscribe