TOKYO (AP) — Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three nearby areas on Thursday as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It lasts from Friday until Feb. 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.
The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep its economy going.
Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will be publicized on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.
Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities, said the economic damage from the declaration will be limited, with real gross domestic product growth likely to be pushed down by 0.2 percentage points in the first quarter of 2021.
“The emergency last year affected a wider part of the economy, and it coincided with the time when the economy was already struggling amid plunging global trade,” he said.
Other economists are projecting a slightly greater negative impact on GDP.
During the second quarter last year, Japan’s economy shrank nearly 8%, but has gradually rebounded, growing 5% in the July-September 2020 period.
Trade has stagnated, although hopes are high for a gradual recovery. Some parts of Asia have not been as affected by the coronavirus as the U.S. and Europe.
Still, the restaurant and hotel sectors will be slammed, and government assistance is needed, Maruyama said.
Shingo Sakai, who runs La Rochelle French cuisine restaurants in Tokyo, said fine dining takes more than two hours, and his customers usually don’t get out of the office until after 6 p.m.
“We have to keep our dining quality, and at the same time we need to keep our reputation by following the government order,” he said.
“I have to think about cutting costs to keep the company alive. There’s no place to cut costs because I did that for the last six months. There’s no room for that.”
Japan’s unemployment rate has risen, but has not shot up, hovering at about 3%. Bankruptcies related to the coronavirus total about 800 so far, high for Japan, according to Tokyo Shoko Research.
But shopping districts have been packed, a situation that has contributed to the most recent virus wave.
Some 250,000 cases have been confirmed nationwide with more than 3,700 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. Hospitals are getting stretched thin.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the heads of neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures asked the government for the emergency declaration over the weekend.
“We need to now recognize that virus infections have entered a totally new stage,” she said. “Tokyo is making the protection of human life a top priority.”
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama