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News Navigator: Why is surfing among banned activities amid coronavirus outbreak?

This photo shows the beach in the town of Ichinomiya in Chiba Prefecture where approximately 600,000 people visit every year. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have concerning surfing in Japan amid the state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Question: Although the government is asking that we refrain from going outside to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, some activities are allowed, such as going out for a jog or walk, as long as crowded spaces are avoided. On the other hand, the season for surfing is approaching, but local communities are asking surfers to refrain from the activity. Why is this so?

Answer: Surfing is a sport where people have fun in the sea by using boards to ride waves. As temperatures have become warmer, surfers have been spotted on beaches even though a state of emergency was declared for major prefectures including Tokyo on April 7. There were especially many visitors coming from outside the region. Concerns that such large numbers of people will increase the risk of infection, even in the outdoor setting of a beach, have led to calls to refrain from surfing activities.

Q: How are surfing sites asking people to refrain from visiting?

A: Municipal governments are pushing forward with measures to close off parking lots along the beaches. There are also cases where nearby surf shops have reduced their operating hours and surf schools have been refraining from giving classes. A number of facilities near a port in the city of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, have been closed, and fishing has also been banned in the area.

Q: Are these attempts proving to be effective?

A: The town of Ichinomiya in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo has closed off four parking lots near its beach since April 7. The beach attracts some 600,000 visitors annually and will be used as a venue for the Tokyo Olympics. The town has been receiving over 10 phone calls on some days from those complaining about the closure of the car parks. Ichinomiya issued a joint statement with five other municipalities in the area on April 17, asking for the understanding and cooperation of beachgoers to refrain from visiting.

Q: It seems that surfing, which is one of the new sports added to the now postponed Tokyo Olympic Games, is gathering much attention in an unexpected way.

A: Organizers of the games are worried that the public image of the sport may be damaged. President Atsushi Sakai of the Nippon Surfing Association commented, "Rural regions have few medical institutions, and there are many towns and villages with aging populations that are not equipped with the infrastructure to accept patients. Getting together with friends and meeting up at the beach in large numbers of cars can almost be viewed as infringing on the 'three Cs' of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact with others, which the government has advised people to avoid as they greatly increase chances of viral transmission. Let's be considerate of local residents."

(Japanese original by Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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