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With even a train station split by Tokyo virus measures zones, can they be effective?

Commuters are seen coming and going from Mitaka Station's north exit, in the Tokyo suburban city of Musashino, on April 9, 2021. The station's south exit is in the neighboring city of Mitaka. (Mainichi/Yongho Lee)

Quasi-emergency measures against the coronavirus will be applied to Tokyo as early as April 12 to the capital's 23 wards plus the western suburban cities of Musashino, Tachikawa, Hachioji, Machida, Chofu and Fuchu. But with the demarcation line between affected and non-affected zones even cutting through a train station, how effective can the measures really be?

    And as no enhanced measures are in place for areas just outside Tokyo, what will this mean for the droves of people traveling in and out of the capital each day? Ahead of the measures, many have already begun expressing concern and confusion.

    The decision to put some Tokyo areas under the quasi-emergency was made based on the number of eateries and newly infected people in the preceding four weeks. The measures primarily give the government greater powers against eateries not complying with infection prevention efforts, including administrative fines. It also calls on people in Tokyo not to make nonessential and nonurgent trips outside, and not to cross prefectural borders.

    The JR Chuo Line links the heart of Tokyo with the suburban Tama region. But while the city of Musashino area outside Mitaka Station's north exit is subject to the measures, the numerous eateries at its south exit, in the city of Mitaka, are not. Dining business on the north side will be required to shorten business hours to 8 p.m., while the south-side eateries are expected to be able to stay open until 9 p.m.

    The manager of the Mitaka branch of Kaomangai Bazaar, a Thai restaurant on the station's north side, said with a resigned expression, "Although I can see how a lot of customers will just flow over to the south side, all we can do is cooperate with the business hours request." Conversely, a 72-year-old local man walking around the station's south side told the Mainichi Shimbun shortly: "The measures won't prevent anything."

    The Chuo Line threads through regions that are and aren't subject to the quasi-emergency. West of Mitaka Station, the next stop Musashisakai Station is under measures, but the next five including Higashi-Koganei Station aren't. Tachikawa Station, in the city of the same name, is under measures, but the next two stations including Hino aren't, while stations in the city of Hachioji from Hachioji Station to Takao Station are.

    What's the response in the 23 special wards? At Shibuya Station, one of Japan's busiest transport hubs, a 19-year-old university student traveling in from the city of Yokosuka in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Given how people come from everywhere to Tokyo, if it's just going to be the 23 wards and six cities affected, I don't think it'll do much."

    A 35-year-old station shop worker who lives in the city of Kawasaki, also in Kanagawa Prefecture, said, "If the place where you live isn't one of the ones under measures, you don't feel there's a crisis."

    Some in the station area did express understanding for the measures. A 21-year-old student meeting someone at Shibuya Station said, "You have to draw the line somewhere. I think the choice to limit measures this time to certain regions was a logical one." A 77-year-old homemaker from Suginami Ward who had come to shop at a Shinjuku department store said, "People are tired of the coronavirus (crisis) and their awareness about it has dipped. We need a clearer, harsher response."

    Mainichi reporters also went outside the city to find out how people are feeling about the measures. At just past 6 p.m. at Yokohama Station, Kanagawa Prefecture's busiest, there were a considerable number of commuters returning home from Tokyo.

    One 54-year-old Yokohama resident who works at a hospital in the capital's Chiyoda Ward was walking near the ticket barriers. She said, "Many people in Kanagawa go to work in Tokyo. If they don't get everyone on the same footing (with quasi-emergency measures), infections probably won't fall." A 54-year-old resident of the city of Ebina in Kanagawa Prefecture and who works in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward offered his take on the situation, saying, "I think it's not going to work if Kanagawa and the neighboring prefectures aren't in step."

    (Japanese original by Yongho Lee, Machida Resident Bureau, Nami Takata, Yokohama Bureau, and Shintaro Iguchi and Shotaro Kinoshita, City News Department)

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