Businesses hope for rebound in customers, not virus cases in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An izakaya pub owner in Taito Ward, Tokyo, prepares to close his pub before 8 p.m. on Wednesday, abiding by the request from the Tokyo metropolitan government to shorten business hours.

The restaurant and tourism industries, which have been struggling for an extended period due to the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, are cautiously optimistic regarding the scheduled lifting of the state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures on Sunday.

After enduring this 2½-month second state of emergency, these industries are hoping for a recovery in the number of customers while taking measures to prevent another rebound in infections.

Public health center officials remain alarmed about the situation. “We can’t let our guard down at all,” one such official said.

Hour later, more patrons?

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, an izakaya pub owner in the Ueno district of Tokyo was seeing off the last customer of the day.

Regarding the lifting of the state of emergency on Sunday, the 53-year-old owner said, almost as if praying, “From next week, I hope customers will start coming back, even if it’s little by little.”

The pub currently closes at 8 p.m. in accordance with a request from the Tokyo metropolitan government that restaurants and bars close by that time. While abiding by the request, the izakaya’s sales have dropped to one-third their usual level and there are days when there are no customers left at closing time.

After the emergency is lifted, the request to close early will be slightly relaxed to 9 p.m.

“If we can keep our pub open an hour longer, it will be easier for office workers to visit us,” the owner said in expectation.

Reservations increasing

Major bus tour operator Hato Bus Co. has suspended all tours since January, when the second state of emergency was declared. Drivers and tour guides have thus been forced to stay home.

The company began accepting tour reservations on March 8 for tours in Tokyo that will be conducted from March 22 onward. By Wednesday, Hato Bus had received reservations from about 840 people.

As an infection prevention measure, the company is planning to reduce the capacity of each bus from 44 people to about 30.

“We’re grateful that we’ll be able to resume tours again,” said an employee in charge. “We would like to take all possible measures to prevent infections so people can participate in our tours without worry.”

Up north in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, the Tsugaru no Yado Hirosakiya hotel near the famous cherry blossom viewing spot of Hirosaki Castle has been receiving reservations from people in the Tokyo metropolitan area and elsewhere since March 1. The hotel is nearly fully booked during the period from late April to early May.

To prevent the dining room from becoming crowded, the hotel allocates different breakfast times to guests and limits them to 30 minutes for the meal.

“We’d like our guests to have a strong awareness of measures against the coronavirus,” said a hotel employee.

Public health center officials said that people need to continue to pay close attention to the virus situation.

In Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, where more than 8,000 people have so far been infected with the coronavirus, 10 or more people have been newly infected with the virus almost every day over the past week.

Even though securing hospitals and hotels for recuperation is now easier compared to January and February, when a state of emergency was again declared, the Setagaya public health center fears that the number of infected people may increase when mass vaccinations are being conducted.

Vaccinations may not proceed smoothly if medical workers are busy treating coronavirus patients.

“Even after the emergency is lifted, we must continue to control the number of new infections,” an official at the health center said.