TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s economy minister said on Monday the government would urge businesses to aim for 70% telecommuting and enhance other social distancing measures amid a rise in coronavirus cases among workers, some infected during after-work socialising.
Though Japan has largely avoided the mass infections that have killed tens of thousands overseas, a record surge in cases during the past week in Tokyo and other major urban areas has experts worried the country faces a second wave.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Monday said in a video meeting with Japanese governors that business leaders will be asked to ramp up anti-virus measures such as encouraging the level of telecommuting achieved during Japan’s state of emergency this year, when it hit 70% to 80%. It has since fallen to about 30%, he added.
He also called on companies to encourage staggered shifts and avoid large after-work gatherings for drinks or meals.
Tokyo last week reported a daily record of 366 cases last week, with numbers also rising in Osaka. The southern city of Fukuoka reported a record 90 cases on Sunday.
Despite the rise in cases, the government does not plan to call another state of emergency, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
“The situation compared to April is very different,” he said, citing the small number of serious cases as well as fewer cases among the elderly.
On Monday, 131 new cases were confirmed in the capital, Governor Yuriko Koike said, but noted that testing had fallen to about 20 percent of normal over the extended holiday weekend. She added that serious cases rose by one, to 19.
Concern has grown about clusters, specifically those involving host and hostess bars or connected to after-work socialising, along with a rise in cases among those in their 40s and 50s.
The rate of telecommuting has lagged in Japan because of a paper-driven culture and technological shortcomings, experts say.
The central government remains determined to restart economic activity and last week launched a domestic travel campaign in the face of widespread criticism.
More than 30,000 people in Japan have been infected and nearly 1,000 have died.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Chris Gallagher and Chang-ran Kim, Editing by Gerry Doyle)