Photo/Illutration A flier made by officials in Hida city, Gifu Prefecture, explains the response if a natural disaster occurs while the new coronavirus pandemic is raging. (Masaki Yamamoto)

TAKAYAMA, Gifu Prefecture--Municipalities rattled by an earthquake swarm along the borders of Gifu and Nagano prefectures are desperately trying to secure precautionary evacuation sites that put nobody at risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

On May 19 alone, more than 30 temblors shook Gifu Prefecture, including one at 1:13 p.m. with an estimated magnitude of 5.3, or 4 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale of 7 in Takayama. It had an intensity of 3 in Hida city, in the same prefecture, as well as in Nagano.

The focus of the quake was about 10 kilometers below the surface in the Hida district of Gifu Prefecture, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

No reports of damage or injuries had emerged in Takayama as of evening of May 19, although a number of residents told city authorities that some items fell off shelves.

We felt a strong jolt inside the office,” said a staff member of the Kamitakara branch of the Takayama city government office. As quakes have hit (this area) repeatedly, we are calling on residents to remain alert."

Around 100 temblors that measured 1 or stronger on Japan's intensity scale hit Takayama city between April 22 and the evening of May 19.

Takayama city, which remarkably remains free of COVID-19 infection cases, is drawing up plans to protect residents from the risk of exposure to the coronavirus if the need for evacuation arises.

In that case, it will request evacuees to observe social distancing by staying at least 2 meters apart from each other. Other steps include ensuring that evacuees have their temperature taken three times a day.

Authorities are also planning to use large hotels in the city as additional evacuation sites to ensure evacuees are not in close contact. Major hotels in the city have already agreed to provide accommodation for travelers stranded in the event a natural disaster strikes.

The city is negotiating with the hotels so residents can evacuate directly from their homes.

In addition, the city will notify residents that they will not have to go to designated evacuation sites if they have a safe place to stay.

“We are thinking of several possible ways to ensure that residents are able to evacuate safely without being exposed to the virus,” said a city official.

Takayama's neighboring city of Hida will also introduce infection control measures at evacuation centers.

Evacuees will be asked to bring their own disinfectants, place their heads on the opposite side while sleeping next to someone, and keep their back turned to others when seated.

The area around the border between Gifu and Nagano experienced a similar earthquake swarm in August 1998.

Back then the swarm lasted for several months, said a Nagoya District Meteorological Observatory official. "So please stay alert, and take precautionary steps such as anchoring furniture to walls.”

The observatory said the consecutive quakes from April to May apparently occurred because shallow bedrock was destroyed due to tectonic pressure coming from both northwesterly and southeasterly directions.

No changes have been observed in the volcanic activity of Mount Ontakesan and Mount Yakedake lying between Gifu and Nagano Prefectures.

(This article was written by Shuhei Yamashita and Yoshinori Doi.)