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Tokyo businesses impose curbs as coronavirus cases climb

Japan excludes capital from tourism program, but avoids stricter health measures

Tokyoites head to the office: As coronavirus cases climb in the Japanese capital, Gov. Yuriko Koike has called on people to refrain from nonessential travel.

TOKYO -- The Japanese capital on Thursday recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, and the lack of an aggressive government response has prompted businesses to undertake their own prevention efforts.

Tokyo's 286 new confirmed cases surpassed the record of 243 reported July 10. The total number of infections in the metropolitan area has reached 8,640.

Despite the rise in cases, the national and metropolitan governments remain reluctant to take stricter public health measures, which would dampen economic activity. Companies look to strike a balance between staying in business and preventing infections.

Chat app provider Line has notified employees at Tokyo sites to avoid nonessential trips outdoors, reversing a policy of requiring workers to show up at the office at least once a week.

G-Tekt, an auto parts supplier, has created a four-stage alert system concerning the outbreak. The company placed itself in the second-highest level, which mandates that only 30% of employees can come to headquarters, down from 40%.

Camera maker Nikon advises all departments to refrain from group dining. Building materials supplier Lixil Group now requires supervisor approval and efforts to ensure safety for any group dining with outside personnel. Lixil limits such gatherings to nine people, with no after-parties.

Toshiba generally forbids domestic and international travel for business purposes, while G-Tekt banned work travel between the Tokyo and Osaka areas.

Yet some companies have loosened restrictions in the absence of stay-at-home requests by the government.

"If we tighten restrictions when the government has not requested voluntary restraint, the complaints from our employees will complicate the response," said a representative at a food manufacturer.

The surge in coronavirus infections comes ahead of the planned July 22 start of the government's Go To Travel campaign, which many in the leisure industry had hoped would breathe life into the sector. The tourism ministry has said Tokyo will be excluded from the promotion, and critics are seeking a delay.

The record cases come just a day after Tokyo raised its virus alert to the highest level following a resurgence in infections. Gov. Yuriko Koike called on residents to refrain from nonessential travel outside the capital and to avoid visiting restaurants and nightclubs that are not taking sufficient safety measures.

Many of the infections have been traced to entertainment establishments such as host clubs, as well as restaurants. But there have also been outbreaks in places such as nurseries and theaters, a sign that infection routes may be widening.

Surging COVID-19 numbers have put Japan on the horns of a dilemma as it tries to revive its economy. The Go To Travel promotion, aimed at boosting domestic tourism, will subsidize up to half of the travel costs of domestic trips, up to 20,000 yen ($187) per night per traveler.

The government hopes to support the tourism and food-service industries, which have been hit hard by the pandemic. Travel restrictions have been in place for an extended period, leading to a 99.9% year-on-year drop in the number of foreign visitors to Japan for three straight months through June. On Wednesday, the Bank of Japan forecast the nation's economy will contract 4.7% in fiscal 2020.

However, the Go To campaign has come under fire, with opposition lawmakers and Koike urging the government to postpone the program as more people get sick. On Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters: "We are watching the current situation closely, with a high degree of anxiety," adding that the recommendations of the government's newly formed COVID-19 crisis panel will be taken into account.

Kazuyoshi Akaba, the tourism minister, on Thursday told reporters the Go To campaign will exclude travel to Tokyo and travelers who live there. 

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