TOKYO: Japan's economy minister says the government will urge businesses to aim for 70 per cent telecommuting and enhance other social distancing measures amid a rise in coronavirus cases among workers, some infected during after-work socialising.
Though Japan has largely avoided the mass infections that have killed tens of thousands overseas, a record surge in cases during the past week in Tokyo and other major urban areas has experts worried the country will face a second wave.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Monday said in a video meeting with Japanese governors that business leaders will be asked to ramp up anti-virus measures such as encouraging the level of telecommuting achieved during Japan's state of emergency this year, when it hit 70 per cent to 80 per cent. It has since fallen to about 30 per cent, he added.
He also called on companies to encourage staggered shifts and avoid large after-work gatherings for drinks or meals.
Tokyo last week reported a daily record of 366 cases, with 239 on Sunday. The southern city of Fukuoka reported a record 90 cases on Sunday, along with rising numbers in Osaka.
Despite the rise in cases, the government does not plan to call another state of emergency, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
"The situation compared to April is very different," he said, citing the small number of serious cases as well as fewer cases among the elderly.
Nishimura said last week that concern was rising about clusters, specifically those involving host and hostess bars as well as others connected to workplaces and after-work socialising.
Though the number of serious cases remains relatively small, the government is also concerned about a rise in infections among people in their 40s and 50s.
The rate of telecommuting has lagged in Japan because of a paper-driven culture and technological shortcomings, experts say.
The central government remains determined to restart economic activity and last week launched a domestic travel campaign in the face of widespread criticism.
But Tokyo was omitted from the plan and Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike called on the city's residents to stay home during a four-day weekend starting Thursday.
On Monday, 131 new cases were confirmed in the capital, Koike said, but noted that testing had fallen to about 20 per cent of normal over the extended holiday weekend. She added that serious cases rose by one, to 19.
More than 30,000 people in Japan have been infected and nearly 1,000 have died.