Tokyo Lifts Virus Alert to Highest Level, Urges Caution in Bars

Tokyo raised its alert level for coronavirus to the highest on a four-point scale as authorities urged people to modify their behavior in order to prevent a further spread of infection within the capital.

The city, which reported 165 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, has struggled to get a handle on a growing number of infections as it seeks to reopen its economy. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike unveiled a new slogan urging residents to avoid stores that don’t meet guidelines designed to reduce the spread of infections, but has not called on businesses to close their doors.

“Stay out of restaurants and bars that aren’t following guidelines such as properly ventilating, sanitizing hands and having staff wear masks,” Koike said at a press briefing. Noting an increase in cases in such establishments, she also called on people to avoid heavy drinking to reduce the risk of virus-laden droplets being spread. “When you drink alcohol, you’re likely to speak in a loud voice,” she said.

The initial increase in cases after the city ended its state of emergency was attributed to nightlife entertainment areas such as host and hostess clubs that involved close contact with clients. But authorities have since expressed concern at how the infections are spreading to more common places such as restaurants, bars and workplaces.

Koike said she would avoid a general call for businesses to close their doors, instead suggesting she would use narrowly targeted requests to shut down certain stores.

Tourism Campaign

She also called on the national government to reconsider a campaign designed to spur domestic tourism, which has been decried as likely to spread the virus around the country, including to areas so far largely untouched by Covid-19. The program, which provides discounts and coupons for travelers to encourage spending in rural areas, is becoming a target for opposition politicians who have called for it to be postponed.

“The situation is a little different to when the program was being put together,” Koike said, suggesting that delaying the program or confining it to specific areas may be appropriate. She called on Tokyo residents to avoid unnecessary trips to other prefectures, a continuing point of contention with the national government, which has said such steps aren’t necessary.

Multiple other regions are already starting to report record cases, a sign the sharp increase in infections is no longer confined to the capital. Osaka reported 61 infections Wednesday, the most since April 20 when the city was in the middle of its state of emergency. Kanagawa, near Tokyo, saw 39 cases, the most since the emergency was lifted.

Japan Urges Urbanites to Tour Country, Sparking Virus Fear

While Wednesday was the third day that the cases in Tokyo have been below 200 –after four consecutive days above that mark — the seven-day moving average of cases is now higher even than during the previous peak in April.

Hospitalizations in the city stood at 679 as of Tuesday, having tripled over the past three weeks. But only seven are in serious condition and the city hasn’t reported a single death from Covid-19 in those same three weeks.

“People in their 20s and 30s have a near-zero risk of becoming serious cases,” Masataka Inokuchi, vice president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said in a briefing alongside Koike on Wednesday.

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