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Coronavirus

Japan calls for longer New Year holiday to curb coronavirus

Companies usually returning to work Jan. 4 will be asked to wait until Jan. 12

A popular Asakusa street is normally crowded with visitors during the New Year holiday in Tokyo. (Photo by Wataru Ito)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government will ask companies to extend the upcoming New Year holiday by about one week in a bid to mitigate crowding by people visiting relatives or going on vacation and lower the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, a Cabinet member said Friday.

Under the plan, announced by Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government's coronavirus response, companies that would usually go back to work on Jan. 4 will be asked to wait until Jan. 12, a day after Coming-of-Age Day.

The New Year holiday is one of the busiest seasons for travel in Japan as trains, planes and highways become packed with people returning to their hometowns to see family and friends or taking the opportunity to go on vacation.

People also form long lines for "hatsumode," the first Shinto shrine visit of the year. The plan came as a government subcommittee discussed precautions against spreading COVID-19 during the New Year holiday, particularly when people visit the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, and how to avoid the three Cs -- confined and crowded places and close contact with others.

For the Bon holiday in August, the subcommittee had recommended people reconsider traveling unless proper countermeasures were in place and to avoid eating together in large numbers. There have been over 95,000 confirmed cases in Japan, including about 700 from a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February, with a little over 1,700 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

While the country has passed the peak of new coronavirus cases, experts advising the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare warned Thursday that the number of infections is starting to trend slightly upward again.

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