Golden Week gets off to busy start despite state of emergency

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man receives a vaccine dose in Minabe, Wakayama Prefecture, on Thursday

Some were busy handling the vaccination rollout while others were going on trips or heading for their hometowns as the Golden Week holidays kicked off Thursday amid a third state of emergency in four prefectures.

Doctors, nurses and municipality staff have given up their vacations to take reservations and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to elderly people, and more passengers were seen at airports and stations compared with last spring when the first state of emergency was issued nationwide.


“I wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible, so I’m relieved now. I really appreciate that the staff gave up their vacations,” said a 79-year-old man who was one of the first batches of people to be inoculated Thursday at a welfare facility in Minabe, Wakayama Prefecture.

The town started administering vaccinations to people aged 65 or older from 9 a.m. on the day. Twenty-six people including doctors and nurses were involved in administering doses to 130 people after conducting thorough examinations and disinfection procedures.

The town received 975 vaccine doses on April 23. The municipality was busy securing an adequate number of doctors hoping to “start vaccinations as soon as possible to prevent infections.”

Minabe will conduct vaccinations on Saturday and Sunday as well, aiming to complete the second vaccination dose for one-third of eligible residents by early June.

In Tonosho on the Shodoshima island in Kagawa Prefecture, 111 people were vaccinated. The town received vaccines last Sunday and started administering vaccinations on the following day. It decided to open vaccination sites on Thursday even though it was a national holiday, as it might have been more convenient for some residents to attend on the day.

“We want to adjust the schedule while checking the supply so that vaccinations can be administered swiftly,” a town official said.

Vaccinations for elderly residents are expected to shift into full gear after Golden Week.

Meguro Ward, which will start vaccinating elderly residents on May 6, will be accepting reservations during the holiday period — except Sunday — for those aged 75 or older.

“We are expecting to have enough supply. So, please be patient even if you have difficulty getting through to us,” a ward official said.

The city of Kokubunji, which started taking reservations on Wednesday, extended the phone reservation period by two hours on Friday and is also operating its call center over the weekend.

Reservations rebound

Airports and stations were not as crowded as they usually are during the Golden Week holidays, but there were more people than last year.

Families and couples were seen at the departure lobby of Haneda Airport on Thursday morning.

“Surfing doesn’t involve being in close contact with people, so it’s okay,” said a 24-year-old man with a surfboard from Koto Ward, Tokyo, who had planned a four-day trip to Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture.

According to Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, the number of domestic flight reservations as of April 23 for both airlines during the Golden Week period was about 770,000 in total, about 40% of 2019 levels but about four times higher than last year.

“We’ll keep encouraging our customers to wear masks, disinfect their hands and keep a distance from each other,” a JAL spokesperson said.

At JR Tokyo Station’s Shinkansen platforms, more passengers were seen carrying bags of gifts. Last spring few people were spotted.

A 24-year-old woman from Adachi Ward, Tokyo, was on her way to her parents’ house in Osaka Prefecture.

“I know I should’ve refrained from traveling or going out, but I have things I need to do in my hometown. But I won’t meet up with my friends there,” she said.

According to JR companies, the occupancy rate of unreserved seats on Shinkansen trains departing Tokyo on Thursday was between 10% and 30%, but that of the first train departing Tokyo for Hakata on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line was 60%. The occupancy rates were significantly higher than those of last year when they were less than 5% almost throughout the day.

Quiet spots

Sightseeing spots close to the Tokyo metropolitan area were sparsely crowded.

The resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture is usually crowded with people every year.

“We weren’t sure about coming because of the government’s request not to travel, but we decided to come because we had already made a reservation,” said a 61-year-old man from Sumida Ward, Tokyo, who was visiting the town with his family of three.

However, the 71-year-old owner of a pickle shop said, “It’s just like last year’s holiday season when not many people were around.”

In the hot spring town of Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture, few people were seen in the shopping district in front of JR Atami Station.

“On a regular long holiday, the streets are so crowded that you can’t walk straight,” a souvenir shop employee said.

A couple from Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, said they wanted to enjoy their trip to Atami while taking proper measures against infection.