THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
March 8, 2020 at 15:54 JST
Like many young people in Hokkaido, a 19-year-old student continued to keep a low profile as the northernmost prefecture entered the second weekend of a "state of emergency" due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The student, who attends Tokyo University of Agriculture in Abashiri in Hokkaido, is part of the age group officials fear most likely to spread the infection at venues such as karaoke bars, live music clubs, gyms and other enclosed places.
On March 7, she spent the day at home as she could not make it to her part-time job due in part to heavy snow.
“I am enjoying cooking, with a stockpile of potatoes and onions,” she said. “Most of my classmates went home and plan to return in April. I am worried if the university will hold classes in April.”
The Hokkaido government on Feb. 28 declared a state of emergency, requesting residents to refrain from going out on weekends unless it is essential.
As of 11 p.m. on March 7, 98 infections were confirmed in Hokkaido, the most of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
However, some young people continued to venture out on the weekend.
A 20-year-old college student in Sapporo enjoyed a stroll in Odori Park, a landmark in the city, with a friend.
“We went for a walk while avoiding crowds as much as possible,” she said. “I think we can be allowed to go out just for today.”
She said she spent most of the recent days staying at home.
A 21-year-old company employee who was visiting a recycle goods shop in Obihiro said people can go out if they exercise precautions such as washing their hands and wearing a face mask.
“Each individual should decide if they can go out or not at their own discretion,” he said, adding the state of emergency should not deprive people of their freedom.
Many karaoke bars, clubs with live music and gyms have been forced to close in succession in Hokkaido after an expert panel with the central government cited those venues at high risk of infection.
Karoke club operator Takahashi closed about 80 outlets in Hokkaido through March 8 despite its previous stated policy of remaining open throughout the year.
March is usually a busy month for the operator with many farewell and welcoming parties scheduled. But not this year.
“The impact is huge and closing outlets is an agonizing decision,” said a Takahashi employee.
Zepp Sapporo, a live music club with a capacity of 2,000 people in Sapporo, either canceled or postponed 14 concerts planned through March 19.
Tokyo-based Konami Sports Co., a health club operator, will close all its seven gyms in Hokkaido until March 19.
But Life Stage in Sapporo, which also operates fitness clubs, limited the closure to studio lessons and swimming pools.
“We will increase the frequency of sanitizing machines and ventilate frequently,” said an official of Life Stage. “We will take necessary precautions as much as possible.”
Karaoke Manekineko’s 43 outlets are open as usual. The operator said they will increase the disinfection of microphones and clean them thoroughly after disassembling them once a week.
(This article was written by Tatsuya Harada, Masafumi Kamimura, Shigehito Nakazawa, Minami Endo and Junichiro Nagasaki.)
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