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Coronavirus

Global businesses start to shun Japan over growing outbreak

Prada delays show while Indian companies refuse trips from Japanese partners

A Prada store in Tokyo's Aoyama district: The Italian brand has canceled its Tokyo fashion show planned in May due to the coronavirus.    © AP

GENEVA -- Multinational companies are avoiding travel to and from Japan over fears the country could be the next hot spot in the  coronavirus outbreak.

Luxury fashion house Prada has postponed its first-ever fashion show in Japan scheduled for May 21. "This decision was made as a precautionary measure as well as an act of responsibility and respect for all the people working on and planning to attend" the show, the Italian brand said Tuesday.

Prada is eager to tap rising demand for luxury goods in Asia, and held a menswear show in Shanghai in June. It considers Japan a strategic market, and plans to look into a new date and venue after assessing the impact of the coronavirus.

The decision came as a World Health Organization report published Tuesday placed Japan's coronavirus patient count at 65 -- the highest in the world after China and Singapore. 

There are also signs of a push to limit travel not only to, but also from, Japan. "We are seeing companies in several countries besides China, such as India, that are refusing business trips from Japanese partners," Japan Foreign Trade Council Chairman Kuniharu Nakamura told reporters Wednesday.

"This reminds us again of the severity of the impact," he said.

Nightlife in the Okinawan city of Naha. Coronavirus cases have been reported from the southern Japanese island to Hokkaido in the north. (Photo by Keiichiro Sato)

Including the more than 540 patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been quarantined in Yokohama for weeks, Japan's total number of coronavirus cases comes to over 600.

"Clearly there has been more transmission than expected on the ship," said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies program.

Experts worry that Japan could face an increase in homegrown cases that cannot be traced back to a specific patient. Coronavirus infections have been confirmed across the country, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.

Thailand's government has urged citizens to postpone nonessential travel to Japan and Singapore in light of the outbreak. Thais are the sixth largest group of tourists in Japan, and the advisory could lead to group tour cancellations and other blows to the Japanese business. South Koreans and Taiwanese are also starting to avoid Japan, travel watchers say.

Amid shrinking demand, Japan Airlines plans to suspend or reduce more flights beyond those to and from mainland China. Service between Tokyo and Seoul, as well as between Osaka and Taipei, will be affected.

Growing anxieties over the coronavirus loom heavy over Japan's manufacturing sector. The trade council's Nakamura said supply chains for electronic components, auto parts and machinery have been disrupted, and many parts cannot be sourced from places outside China.

Regarding efforts to encourage telecommuting and video conferences, "it poses a good opportunity for companies to use tech to try to change how they work," he said.

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