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Some Japan prefs paying subsidies to eateries that close down during state of emergency

This Feb. 4, 2021 photo shows a restaurant's closing down notice in Osaka's Kita Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

OSAKA -- Some of the 11 prefectures under the second state of emergency to stem coronavirus infections have made dining businesses that went under before Feb. 7 eligible for subsidies for cooperating with early closing-hour requests, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    "Cooperation money" of 60,000 yen (about $570) a day is paid to restaurants that complied with a government request to shorten business hours between Jan. 14 and Feb. 7, the initial period for the current state of emergency. But some eateries went bankrupt or closed down during that time, and whether they can receive subsidies differs by prefecture.

    Only two prefectures -- Hyogo and Kanagawa -- decided from the beginning to make daily payments to those restaurants. The move led eateries in other prefectures to complain, saying, "It's wrong to not pay anything at all." The Osaka Prefectural Government, which was not going to issue a penny to restaurants closing down during the period, reversed its policy on Feb. 4 amid criticism. The about-face leaves open the possibility for other prefectures to change their policies.

    Nine prefectures including Osaka had set conditions for subsidizing restaurants if they remain in business on Feb. 7 -- what was initially going to be the last day of the current emergency declaration -- or if they are open on the day of application for the money after the period. Their reasons include "to make restaurants respond to requests to shorten business hours over the entire period" and "to support eateries that maintain operations."

    In response to questions from the Mainichi Shimbun, an official at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government explained, "I'm afraid we can't release cash to restaurants that have closed down because the subsidy is meant to support businesses in continuing operations." An official at the Kyoto Prefectural Government also said, "One of the purposes (of the financial aid) is to support companies that maintain trading." Elsewhere, a Fukuoka Prefectural Government official said: "If complicated requirements were to be applied according to the needs of each business, time would be taken up doing confirmations and assessments, and as a result it would be longer until payments are made. To some extent, we need to draw a line." Though the national government pays 80% of the cooperation money, the Cabinet Office takes the stance that "rules should be set by each prefecture implementing the initiative."

    In its guidelines on Jan. 29, the Osaka Prefectural Government had set conditions for payments including that restaurants cooperate for the whole 25 days between Jan. 14 and Feb. 7, actually operate until Feb. 7, and don't go bankrupt or close down before its application made on or after Feb. 8 is granted.

    Tomofumi Fujimaru, 44, who manages wine restaurants in Osaka and Tokyo, closed two of his six restaurants in Osaka Prefecture on Jan. 31 because of profit drops amid the pandemic. When he made inquiries with the prefecture's call center on Jan. 27, he was told, "There's a possibility restaurants that have closed down will not be paid." He said it was then that he realized what the conditions meant. Fujimaru appealed to the Mainichi Shimbun, saying: "They were not properly announced in advance. There are probably other restaurants that have not realized what the conditions are."

    An official at the Osaka Prefectural Government told the Mainichi Shimbun on Feb. 3 that they had not outright assumed they would be paying businesses by the day because one of the support's aims is to subsidize restaurants that responded to the request across the entire period to prevent the spread of infections and that they excluded bankrupt businesses because another of its aims was to support companies to maintain operations.

    But Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura revealed during a Feb. 4 press conference that he would change the policy so that restaurants that went bankrupt or closed down during the period do receive money, explaining: "Our request is difficult, and the (state of emergency) period has been extended. We've decided to make an exception and pay by the day."

    Meanwhile, the Hyogo Prefectural Government had decided from the beginning to pay businesses daily even if they went bankrupt because it "wanted many owners to shorten business hours." An official at the Kanagawa Prefectural Government also said, "We pay if it is proven a restaurant had short operating hours in compliance with our request and if a notification of business closure is submitted."

    Following Osaka's policy change, the Kyoto Prefectural Government is apparently considering making payments for the extended period after the initial state of emergency period that would have ended Feb. 7.

    (Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Izumisano Resident Bureau; Hiroto Ueno, Hiroshi Muramatsu and Kohei Takase, Osaka City News Department)

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