Tokyo: Tokyo issued an alert to residents for the first time urging additional caution against the coronavirus pandemic, after a spike in new cases.
The Japanese capital saw 34 new infections on Tuesday, the most in a single day in more than three weeks. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike triggered what she has dubbed a “Tokyo Alert,” aiming to heighten Tokyo residents’ awareness of the state of the pandemic, and which could lead to businesses in the capital again being asked to close their doors should a surge continue.
“The number of cases today is a level at which we should be cautious,” Koike said at a meeting of the Tokyo government’s taskforce on the outbreak. “The Tokyo Alert is a step to inform Tokyo residents of the status of the outbreak and call on them to take caution.”
While the alert itself won’t immediately lead to new restrictions, if cases continue to climb in the city the government has said it could reinstate its call for companies to shut and residents to stay at home.
Of the 34 cases Tuesday, 13 came from a cluster at a hospital in Koganei in the west of the city, where more than 30 infections have been reported to date. Koike also said that many of the cases over the past week came from Tokyo’s nightlife districts, with dozens of the infections linked to areas populated by hostess clubs and other such entertainment venues.
Three criteria were laid out for issuing the alert: more than 20 newly reported cases in a day, half of those unable to be traced, and infections rising from the previous week. The city currently meets all three. The scenic Rainbow Bridge in northern Tokyo Bay is set to be lit red from 11 p.m. local time to raise awareness of the pandemic.
The jump in cases comes a week after a national state of emergency order was lifted in the Tokyo region. As newly confirmed cases had fallen in some days to single figures, footfall at major stations and passenger numbers on trains have begun to return to near pre-pandemic levels, with establishments from gyms to schools re-opening their doors on Monday under step two of the city’s roadmap to restarting business.
Koike said that the city wouldn’t immediately roll back to an earlier stage of its re-opening plan, but sounded a note of caution on proceeding to step three of the plan. She called on companies to continue to promote remote work, noting the resurgence of packed environments such as rush hour trains in the city, and appealed to residents to avoid crowded spaces as much as possible.
Japanese authorities lack the legal power to enforce lockdown restrictions due to civil liberties enshrined in the postwar constitution. Although there was still a large degree of cooperation during the seven-week state of emergency, the country has been keen to lift restrictions as quickly as possible to minimize further economic damage. Japan has taken a pragmatic approach, with officials stating the virus can’t be wiped out, and aiming to resume economic activity so long as the medical system can cope with any increase in infections.
“Given the nature of this virus, it is at this point of time impossible to reduce the level of transmission to zero,” Shigeru Omi, the deputy head of the expert panel advising the Japanese government, said on Monday, before the latest spike. “After the emergency was lifted, a number of cases have occurred especially in Tokyo and Fukuoka. This kind of small surge of cases was already anticipated.”-Bloomberg