The outbreak has spread to nations across Asia in the weeks since it started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With 66 cases, Japan is among the countries with the most cases outside China, and the growing number of infections with no traceable links to the original epicenter have alarmed experts and government officials alike.
To keep employees out of large crowds, Sony urged staffers Tuesday to telework and avoid commuting during rush hour. It is suspending its usual 10-day monthly cap for working from home.
For those who must physically be on-site, Sony is offering a flexible schedule with shorter mandatory hours of noon to 3:30 p.m., compared with the usual start time of 9:30 a.m. Bypassing rush-hour commutes will minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus, the thinking goes.
Fujitsu is letting employees who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions work from home for as many full days as needed, scrapping its usual weekly and monthly limits. Toshiba told all subsidiaries Tuesday to introduce telecommuting to all workers.
The government has embraced such efforts. "It's important to create an environment where students and workers feel like they can stay home, and I ask for your cooperation," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a response meeting Tuesday.
"Teleworking is an effective solution," he said.
"People must not go to school or work if they have coldlike symptoms, such as a fever, and avoid leaving the house," said Abe, who also discouraged large-scale events that could lead to widespread infection.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Monday threw her support behind teleworking and staggered commutes. "We need to start with what we can, and we'll come up with a detailed plan as soon as we can," she said.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided that day to distribute roughly 150,000 protective masks to bus and taxi drivers in response to a request by industry groups.
The world is watching to see if Japan can prevent the situation from turning into the first major outbreak outside China. Japan appears "on the cusp of a large outbreak and maybe epidemic growth," former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Tuesday. The country's patient count has doubled in four days, he said.
"If you start to see this become epidemic in other nations or have other nations experiencing large outbreaks that's going to be extremely worrisome that we're not going to control this globally," Gottlieb said.