Tokyo seeks shop shutdowns, Kyoto warns tourists away as coronavirus threatens Japan economy

People walk through Kabukicho, Tokyo's biggest nightlife amusement district, on April 9, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Metropolitan Tokyo asked some businesses to close and the ancient capital of Kyoto warned tourists to stay away as Japan battles a fast-spreading outbreak of the new coronavirus, amid fears the government's measures are too little and too late.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday (April 10) she was targetting a range of businesses for shutdowns from Saturday during a month-long emergency through May 6, after resolving a feud with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's team over the extent of the closures.

Ms Koike had wanted to move sooner but Mr Abe has resisted measures likely to put greater pressure on an economy which is already tipped to fall into recession, fueling concerns that the central government is putting business ahead of people's lives.

"This will be tough on residents but if we act swiftly, the pain will be short and the outbreak contained quickly," Ms Koike told a task force meeting on Friday.

Businesses including pachinko parlours and Internet cafes are being asked to close and restaurants to shorten their hours.

Department stores, home-furnishing centres and barber shops will be exempted, in a concession to the central government.

Mr Abe declared the emergency on Tuesday for Tokyo and six other prefectures, but the details of how life would change in the Japanese capital had to be hammered out in tense inter-governmental talks.

"I thought governors would get authority akin to a CEO but ... I feel more like a middle manager," Ms Koike told reporters in a sign of frustration over central government pressure.

Mr Abe's move came after a jump in coronavirus cases in Tokyo sparked concern that Japan was headed for the sort of explosive outbreak seen in many other countries.

The number of cases in Japan rose to 5,548 on Thursday, with 108 deaths, NHK said. Tokyo accounted for 1,519 cases, heightening concerns about sluggish action.

Other regions are now clamouring to be included in the national emergency.

The governor of Aichi in Japan's industrial heartland, which hosts Toyota Motor Corp, declared its own state of emergency on Friday and has asked to be added to the government's targeted regions. Gifu in central Japan was also poised to issue an emergency declaration and at least one other prefecture was set to do the same, media said.


A security guard keeps watch at the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto on March 15, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

The governor of Kyoto prefecture and the mayor of the ancient capital also asked to be included, while urging tourists to stay away from its famous palaces, temples and gardens.

"I call on all people who love Kyoto and tourists from all over the world - until this situation is ended, to protect yourself and your families, please refrain from visiting Kyoto," Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa told a news conference.

Some experts fear the feud between Tokyo and the central government could undermine Mr Abe's goal to cut person-to-person contact by 80 per cent to slow the pace of the pathogen's spread.

SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son took to twitter to query the government's handling of the outbreak.

"Why has Japan put its economy minister in charge?" he asked, comparing the Japanese government's response to the leadership of Dr Antoni Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases in the United States.

In late March, Ms Koike warned Tokyo could face a full "lockdown" if infections surged, although Japanese law does not mandate penalties for residents who refuse to stay home or businesses that stay open.

Ms Koike also said that businesses that met her requests to close would receive between 500,000 yen (S$6,517) and 1 million yen from a fund set up by the metropolitan government.

Mr Abe has rejected calls to compensate such businesses from the central government's purse.

The new coronavirus has pushed 51 Japanese companies into bankruptcy with a spike in new cases seen in April, Tokyo Shoko Research said on Friday.

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