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Emergency calls to Tokyo police drop amid pandemic; crimes playing on virus fears rise

A sign for the Metropolitan Police Department is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kenji Yoneda)

TOKYO -- Emergency calls to Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) fell by some 15% in the first two and a half weeks of March compared to the same period in 2019, raising speculation that the drop is due to fewer people going out amid the coronavirus epidemic.

Calls to the police's 110 emergency number from March 1 to 18 this year clocked in at about 74,000, some 14,000 fewer than over the same span last year, the MPD's dispatch headquarters told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Many sporting and other events have been canceled across Japan around the same period due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"There are more and more people refraining from going out, so I think it's possible that there are thus fewer people getting caught up in trouble that could lead to criminal incidents," commented one senior MPD officer.

As the coronavirus continued to spread across the world, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb. 26 called on large event organizers to consider postponing or canceling them. The next day, he called on education boards across Japan to shutter schools temporarily from March 2.

Meanwhile, while the number of emergency calls to Tokyo police has dropped, there has been an increase in crimes that play off the epidemic in some way.

In one example, a man posing as a government administrative worker asked a victim over the phone to supply their bank account number to facilitate "coronavirus support payments." The caller also promised to send the victim masks, and directed them to an ATM. However, police unmasked the scheme before any financial damage was done.

In another case, a man approached a primary school girl on the street in the city of Kokubunji, western Tokyo, and told her he was "conducting coronavirus tests" before touching her body.

The MPD is calling on citizens to beware of criminals seeking to use coronavirus fears for their own ends.

(Japanese original by Hironori Tsuchie, City News Department)

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