Coronavirus pandemic

Japanese firms urged to raise level of telecommuting

Mannequins being used to help customers maintain social distancing in a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo yesterday. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura wants businesses in Japan to aim for 70 per cent telecommuting and has also called on companies to enc
Mannequins being used to help customers maintain social distancing in a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo yesterday. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura wants businesses in Japan to aim for 70 per cent telecommuting and has also called on companies to encourage staggered shifts and avoid large after-work gatherings for drinks or meals.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO • Japan's economy minister says that the government will urge businesses to aim for 70 per cent telecommuting and enhance other social distancing measures amid a rise in coronavirus cases among workers, some infected during after-work socialising.

Though Japan has largely avoided the mass infections that have killed tens of thousands elsewhere, a record surge in cases in the past week in Tokyo and other major urban areas has experts worried that the country faces a second wave.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura yesterday said in a video meeting with Japanese governors that business leaders will be asked to ramp up anti-virus measures such as encouraging the level of telecommuting achieved during the country's state of emergency earlier this year, when telecommuting hit 70 per cent to 80 per cent.

It has since fallen to about 30 per cent, he added.

He also called on companies to encourage staggered shifts and avoid large after-work gatherings for drinks or meals.

Tokyo last week reported a daily record of 366 cases, with numbers also rising in Osaka.

The southern city of Fukuoka reported a record 90 cases on Sunday.

Despite the rise in cases, the government does not plan to call another state of emergency, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

"The situation compared with April is very different," he said, citing the small number of serious cases as well as fewer infections among the elderly.

Yesterday, 131 new cases were confirmed in the capital, Governor Yuriko Koike said, but noted that testing had fallen to about 20 per cent of usual numbers over the extended holiday weekend.

She added that serious cases rose by one, to 19.

Concern has grown about clusters, specifically those involving host and hostess bars or connected to after-work socialising, along with a rise in cases among those in their 40s and 50s.

The rate of telecommuting has lagged in Japan because of a paper-driven culture and technological shortcomings, experts say.

The central government remains determined to restart economic activity and last week launched a domestic travel campaign in the face of widespread criticism.

Around 30,000 people in Japan have been infected and nearly 1,000 have died.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2020, with the headline 'Japanese firms urged to raise level of telecommuting'. Subscribe