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Data shows wide failure to reach Japan gov't goal of 80% cut in interactions amid outbreak

Two weeks after the state of emergency declaration, a crossing near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo is seen with fewer passersby during the evening rush hour on April 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

TOKYO -- No locality in Japan has managed to attain an 80% reduction in people's outside activities in the two weeks following the coronavirus state of emergency declaration for Tokyo and six other prefectures, mobile phone location and other data shows.

The reduction in outings is an indicator for reductions in social interactions. The Japanese government has promoted an 80% reduction in direct social contact to bring the novel coronavirus under control and lift the state of emergency -- which now covers all Japan -- on May 6 as scheduled.

The national government is now closely following the progression in confirmed infection numbers while examining issues around whether to extend or lift the state of emergency.

Speaking to a group of reporters at the prime minister's office on April 21, Abe expressed his thanks to the people of Japan, saying, "Even on their days off, people are sticking to not going outdoors. I thank them again for the burden they are taking on, and the cooperation they have shown."

He also called for vigilance during the extended "Golden Week" holiday period in early May, one of the reasons behind the state of emergency's expansion across the whole country from April 16, saying, "Already Golden Week is on the horizon, and we want people to refrain from traveling even if it may just be a trip with family members"

Analysis based on location data and other information from mobile network carrier NTT Docomo Inc. has shown that, as of 3 p.m. on April 20, rates of people heading outdoors compared to before the coronavirus' spread (the weekday average between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14 this year) vary wildly across the country. The findings show that the changes in outdoor activity range from areas with a 78.4% reduction to others with an 8.2% increase.

Among the seven prefectures initially under the state of emergency, general drops of between 50% and over 70% were recorded. The location with the greatest fall in outdoor activity was 78.4% at the Kanedahigashi neighborhood of Kisarazu, in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo, which is host to a large outlet mall.

Other busy locations that saw greater falls in activity were Umeda Station in Osaka, with 73.1%, Tokyo's Shinjuku Station at 69.2% and the Shibuya Center-Gai shopping and entertainment street in the capital with 67.2%, and Yokohama Station at 66.2%.

Along with the seven prefectures initially put under the state of emergency, six prefectures designated as requiring special precautionary measures, which included Hokkaido, Aichi and Kyoto prefectures, saw general falls in activities of between 40% and 60%. Nagoya Station saw a 62.9% fall in activity, with Kyoto Station at 61.8%, Sapporo Station at 45.2%, and Mito Station at 42.2%. In the remaining 34 prefectures, falls in activity trended at lower rates, with none of the drops reaching the 50% reduction mark.

The Japanese government has said it wants interactions to fall by a minimum of 70%, and is seeking a concerted effort to reach 80%. But economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura has said, "If we only achieve a 70% fall then the path toward an end to the outbreak would take around two months to become visible."

The government emphasizes that there is a need for rates of interactions to drop by 80% and for the number of infections to fall in a visible manner to lift the state of emergency on May 6 as scheduled. At an April 21 press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "We ask people to increase their cooperation one step further."

Within the government, some of those around Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have reportedly argued in favor of the state of emergency being extended, saying that calling it off soon would put the country back to where it started. In the event that it was lifted, there are also discussions on whether to stagger the timing for the 13 prefectures under special precautionary measures and the other 34 prefectures. Other suggestions that have arisen include a phased relaxation of measures, with not all economic activities recommencing at once.

Shigeru Omi, the head of the government's advisory committee on the basic action policy comprised of experts, has said, "When we reach the period around May 6 we should be able to provide a general view on the matter. Based on that, we as experts want to put forward our suggestions to the government." It appears then that the government will carefully make its decision to lift the state of emergency while considering the state of infections and the health care system.

(Japanese original by Shuhei Endo and Aoi Hanazawa, Political News Department)

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