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Coronavirus

Japan's key sectors prepare for virus emergency

Banks and utilities act now to keep needed services up and running

Tokyo Gas' cogeneration equipment in the basement of a building in Tokyo.

TOKYO -- Japanese companies are moving to prevent sectors vital to modern society from shutting down if the government declares an emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

Severe restrictions on economic activities in such major metropolitan areas as Tokyo and Osaka due to a one-month emergency declaration would lead to losses of 4 trillion to 6 trillion yen ($37 billion to $55 billion), estimates the Japan Center for Economic Research. The impact would be even greater if limits on people's movements are imposed. Corporations are trying to balance the need to keep social infrastructure running and to keep their workers safe.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Friday that if the central government declares an emergency, she will ask people not to go out. But she noted that the impact on people's lives and the economy will be taken into consideration, allowing stores selling such essentials as food and clothing to stay open, for example.

Financial institutions and securities exchanges have been told that they can continue operating to prevent social infrastructure from grinding to a halt. MUFG Bank intends to keep all branches open, albeit with scaled-down operations at certain locations. Mizuho Bank will introduce shifts at branches nationwide starting Monday, with employees coming in every other day. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. is finalizing staff numbers at each branch that will allow it to continue supporting small and midsize businesses.

An official at a megabank said that if people are asked to stay home, it may make more sense in certain cases to keep branches open in residential areas rather than at transportation hubs.

Tokyo Gas has already introduced telecommuting for headquarters employees and others. But there are tasks that must be done on-site, such as running liquefied natural gas terminals and maintaining equipment, an official said. It has split the associated workers into teams and has restricted contact between teams to prevent infections from spreading. If an emergency is declared, a skeleton crew will come in to ensure stable gas supplies.

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone East intends to have employees engaged in maintaining its communications networks work on-site even after an emergency declaration. It has divided them into teams and is taking steps to prevent infections, such as not having them gather in the same place. The company will consider downsizing certain operations, depending on the details of the emergency declaration and the infection situation, an official said.

 

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