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Tokyo's neighbor ups viral response as nearby areas go under Japan state of emergency

A campsite at Lake Saiko in the town of Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, in which people have pitched their tents away from one another, is seen on April 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoru Yamamoto)

KOFU -- Following the national government's declaration that seven prefectures including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama are under state of emergency measures due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, municipalities in nearby Yamanashi Prefecture have become preoccupied with responding to the effects of the declaration, and some of its citizens have also expressed their unease.

The area has also reportedly seen a conspicuous rise in visitors from the capital region recently, and many locals are concerned that the trend may bring with it a rise in the prefecture's number of infections.

Situated in central Japan and lying west of Tokyo, Yamanashi shares a border with the prefectures of Kanagawa and Saitama, as well as the rural end of the Tokyo metropolis, all of which are in a state of emergency.

Following the state's announcement, Yamanashi Gov. Kotaro Nagasaki held a press conference from 8 p.m. on April 7, in which he said, "We recognize that, because Yamanashi has not been included in the areas under a state of emergency, we are now in a situation where conversely we must raise our sense of crisis further."

In his remarks, he asked that Yamanashi residents refrain from going to the seven prefectures under the state of emergency for any nonessential reasons until the declaration is set to be lifted on May 6.

Ahead of the press conference, the Yamanashi Prefectural Government held a meeting of its novel coronavirus response headquarters, and established a coronavirus medical response headquarters to be chaired by Gov. Nagasaki. Relevant institutions will now cooperate to obtain information on COVID-19 cases and manage health care provision. It was also decided that disaster medical assistance teams will formulate plans to send and transfer patients to hospitals based on their symptoms.

Some municipalities in the prefecture are also temporarily closing elementary and junior high schools in response to the state of emergency declaration. In the city of Uenohara, schools are expected to stay shut until May 6. A representative of the city's education board said, "There are many people in our city who go to school or work in neighboring Tokyo and Kanagawa. We decided the risk of infections was high, and resolved to close the schools."

Some residents have expressed unease and surprise over the state of emergency and the response to it. Marie Aizawa, 32, who moved to the prefectural capital of Kofu in March from Mie Prefecture in western Japan, has family in Tokyo. She said, "I had wanted my family to come and help me with the move here, and I had also wanted to go and visit them. But I probably won't be able to go there for a while now."

Another woman in Kofu told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I'm concerned, but there's nothing that can be done about that. I think it was probably a difficult decision to make, but I also think perhaps it would have been better if it had been done a little earlier."

But there have also been visitors to the prefecture from the capital region who appear to have been anticipating the state of emergency declaration. At a weekday visit to a campsite in the town of Fujikawaguchiko, famous for its lake situated at the foot of Mount Fuji, the Mainichi Shimbun spotted a remarkable number of vehicles with license plates registered in the capital region and nearby.

Among the visitors was a couple planning to spend two nights at the site. The husband, a 31-year-old working for a general trading company in Tokyo, said, "We came to get away from the crowds in the city," while the wife said, "Wherever you go in Tokyo its full of people, and full of 'the three Cs.' I'm afraid of getting infected." The three Cs refers to a set of three circumstances which the government is encouraging people to avoid to minimize their risk of novel coronavirus infections. They are: confined places, crowded places, and close contact with people.

Another visitor to the campsite, a 29-year-old from the city of Saitama, said, "For more than two weeks I've been working from home. It's got me feeling down, and I reached my limit. I heard the news that a state of emergency was going to be declared, so I came out here for a change of pace."

But there are also figures in Yamanashi Prefecture voicing concern over people coming to the area from the capital region. Takeshi Okabe, mayor of the village of Tabayama which borders the rural town of Okutama in Tokyo, said, "Ordinarily we would welcome visitors to the village, but right now we don't know if these people could be carrying the virus, and because this is a village with many elderly residents, we are concerned about any potential viral spread."

(Japanese original by Keisuke Umeda, Satoru Yamamoto and Shota Kaneko, Kofu Bureau)

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