Japan has so far handled the crisis with considerable success. It has 26, 635 infections, but despite being home to the world’s oldest population – advanced age is a key risk factor for the virus – only passed the 1,000 mortalities mark on Monday. And the latter figure includes infections from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which docked in Japan.
However, since last week, concerns have been hovering over the capital. Tokyo has 9.2 million residents in the city and 14 million in the prefecture but is also home to more than a third of total infections in the nation of 126 million.
Numbers are being scrutinized daily. After a record daily high of 293 new cases last Friday, Tokyo saw a slight downturn with 188 on Sunday and 168 on Monday before breaching the 200 barrier again on Tuesday with 237 , the Japan Times reported.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has asked Tokyoites to stay at home during a four-day weekend that begins tomorrow. That national holiday was originally set to mark the opening of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Koike said Tokyo Metropolitan Government had secured 2,400 hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, including 100 for those with severe symptoms. In light of the surge, the high-profile governor also unveiled plans to prepare 2,000 hotel rooms to isolate patients with mild or no symptoms.
Yet, while the megalopolis has been in the highest stage of its four levels of virus alert since July 15 , it is not in lockdown. And despite Koike’s requests and the possibility of exponential spread, most Tokyoites appeared to going about business as usual on Wednesday.
“I am working at home almost every day and I personally don’t spend time in restaurants or cafes, as it is a bit of a worrisome situation,” Yasuo Naito, a Tokyo-based editor told Asia Times. “But to be honest, people are going out and taking the trains. It is 80-90% as usual.”
Last Thursday, the capital was officially dropped from the central government’s “Go To Travel” campaign. The campaign kicked off today as the country’s humid summer gets into full swing.
Another Tokyo resident en route to Starbucks said, “The only thing I can see that is different from last week is that Tokyo is now not part of ‘Go To Travel’ which has annoyed a lot of Tokyoites.”
With international travel at a virtual standstill, Japan’s tourism sector has been suffering especially painful fallout due to the postponement of the Olympics, which had been expected to lure 40 million overseas visitors.
The “Go To Travel” campaign is designed to deliver some love to embattled domestic tourism operators by encouraging locals to travel within Japan this summer, notably by offering subsidies to holiday makers.
In the 1.35 trillion yen ($12.59 billion) scheme, the government subsidizes up to half of travel expenses, including accommodation and transport fees. The campaign is web-based and includes discounts and coupons for food, shopping and other holiday activities. Although Tokyo has been dropped from the campaign, the government has agreed to pay cancellation fees in the capital area.
The campaign has caused some controversy because travel – be it public transport, hotel accommodation or crowded attractions – can spread the virus. But it has been strongly pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has championed domestic tourism as a key sector throughout his term in office.
“We will resume economic activities carefully with the cooperation of the people,” Abe said, according to Kyodo News Agency. “That policy stands.”