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Accidents rise in rivers, fall in sea in Japan in 2020, possibly due to pandemic

The entrance to the Central Government Building No. 2, which houses the National Police Agency, is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo in 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- The number of accidents in Japan's rivers rose in 2020, apparently due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The National Police Agency announced on June 17 that 475 people were involved in river accidents across the country in 2020, 49 more than the average for the five years between 2015 and 2019. The number of victims in sea accidents, meanwhile, was down. In its analysis the agency said an increasing number of people appeared to have gone to rivers because beaches were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while people were also avoiding crowds in swimming pools.

    A total of 1,353 water accidents occurred in 2020 -- 55 more than during the previous year. Collectively those accidents involved 1,547 people -- nine more than during the previous year. Of these people, 722 people either died or went missing -- 27 more than in 2019. Altogether, 898 people were involved in sea accidents -- 71 fewer than the average over the five-year period.

    Broken down by month, August saw the highest number of victims in river accidents at 156 -- 30% more than the five-year average in that month.

    In contrast, the number of mountain accidents decreased for the second straight year to 2,294 -- 237 fewer than in 2019. The number of people who were involved in those accidents decreased by 240 to 2,697. Half of them were aged 60 or older. The overall number of those who died or went missing in mountain accidents in 2020 was 278, 21 people fewer than during the previous year.

    Broken down by month, the numbers of victims in mountain accidents in April and May, when many trails were closed due to the nationwide coronavirus state of emergency, reached 69 and 114, respectively, roughly half the level of the five-year average. However, more people were involved in accidents in the autumn compared to an average year.

    By location, the numbers of victims on 3,000-meter-class mountains were significantly lower in 2020: five on Mount Fuji, one on Mount Kitadake in the Southern Japanese Alps, and seven on Mount Yarigatake in the Northern Japanese Alps, compared to 86, 21, and 16 in an average year, respectively. Mount Takao, a tourist spot in western Tokyo, saw 50 people involved in accidents, compared to 85 in an average year. In contrast, the number of people involved in mountain accidents that occurred somewhere other than major peaks, such as community mountains, slightly rose from 1,385 to 1,398.

    (Japanese original by Noritake Machida, Tokyo City News Department)

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