Tokyo urges shorter times for bars and restaurants in virus fight

Businesses would be asked to close by 10 p.m. from Saturday until Dec. 17

  
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike takes off her protective face mask during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, November 24, 2020.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike takes off her protective face mask during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, November 24, 2020.

REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO - The Japanese capital will urge shorter working hours for bars and restaurants and ask residents to stay indoors as much as possible in "tough, concentrated action" to tame a spike in coronavirus cases, Tokyo's governor said on Wednesday.

The curbs are Japan's latest bid to rein in its highest surge in infections yet, with daily tallies on several recent days exceeding 500 in Tokyo. The city had 54 serious cases on Wednesday, the most since a state of emergency was lifted in May.

"We need to have everybody cooperate to prevent further spread of the virus in a tough, concentrated way," Governor Yuriko Koike told a news conference.

"We realize this is an extremely important time of year for business owners, but if we don't stop this now it's just going to continue."

Koike noted that during a similar request to shorten business hours in the summer, the number of cases fell and that it was also important to send a message.

She added that in many cases people were picking up the virus at restaurants and bars and then taking it home, infecting family.

Establishments will be eligible for cash assistance of up to 400,000 yen ($3,831) if they cooperate in the closures, set to run from Saturday until Dec. 17.

The western city of Osaka, which is among the areas grappling with a similar surge in cases, was along with Sapporo one of two areas for which a domestic "Go To Travel" promotion campaign was partially halted on Tuesday.

Osaka is also asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours, its mayor Ichiro Matsui said.

"We have got to extinguish this," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

"I understand that the situation makes it hard for owners to keep their businesses going, but we also need to reduce the burden on medical staff, of whom we have a limited number."

The travel promotion offering fare and hotel discounts is part of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's efforts to boost regional economies but has been criticised over the risk that it could carry the virus from major cities to the countryside. 

Nobody has yet mentioned pausing the programme in Tokyo as well, though Koike said a different programme unique to the capital would be temporarily halted.

Suga's decision to partially pause the programme has cost him support and could cloud his chances for a long term in office, with critics calling it too little, too late. 

Tokyo's tally of new daily infections stood at 401 on Wednesday, with national figures around 1,500. The total death toll is slightly over 2,000.

($1 = 104.4000 yen)

(Reporting by Rocky Swift and Elaine Lies; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Kim Coghill) ((elaine.lies@thomsonreuters.com; +81-3-4563-2748; Reuters Messaging: elaine.lies@thomsonreuters.com))

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