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Cutting restaurant hours doesn't curb COVID, analysis in west Japan's Nara Pref. finds

Nara Gov. Shogo Arai explains the prefecture's analysis of coronavirus prevention measures, at the prefectural government headquarters on Sept. 7, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kubo)

NARA -- Shortening business hours at eateries does not have a visible effect on curbing coronavirus infections, according to recently announced prevention measures for the western Japan prefecture of Nara.

    The prefecture's "Correct infection prevention management strategy for lowering infection risks," announced on Sept. 7 by Gov. Shogo Arai, was compiled in collaboration with a specialist in infectious diseases at Nara Medical University.

    From the outset, states of emergency and quasi-emergency measures in Japan have centered on shortening hours at restaurants and bars to prevent coronavirus transmissions. Nara Prefecture has introduced its own measures, under which multiple municipalities have also implemented shortened hours.

    The prefectural government analyzed data on the period of shortened hours, as well as on the number of infected people and the shift in the flow of people both on a prefectural level and by municipality. It concluded that shortened hours had no discernible impact. The infectious disease specialist who cooperated in the analysis agreed with this assessment, according to the prefecture.

    This photo taken at the Nara Prefectural Government headquarters on Sept. 7, 2021, shows data created by the prefecture stating that shortening restaurant hours has no visible effect on curbing coronavirus infections. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kubo)

    Coronavirus infections have spread within Nara Prefecture, and the number of infections per capita, the hospital bed occupancy rate and other factors are at the same high levels seen in other prefectures where states of emergency have been declared. Several cities and the prefecture's medical association have called on the prefectural government to seek a state of emergency or quasi-emergency declaration from the central government, but Gov. Arai has remained reluctant to take this route, stating, "If it were effective we would (make a request), but it isn't so we won't. In fact, the economic damage is great."

    In a Sept. 7 news conference, Arai stressed, "The approach of saying it's not scary if we all go through (a red light) together (to keep in step with other local bodies) is a way of evading responsibility. We should act based on correct knowledge." On requesting a state of emergency declaration, the governor pointed to news reports suggesting he was in conflict with cities and medical associations, and added, "Fueling it (the request push) is just like the media during World War II."

    A Nara Prefecture task force is set to meet on Sept. 10 to discuss an extension of the prefecture's own coronavirus countermeasures, which have been in place since April.

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kubo, Nara Bureau)

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