People wearing protective masks make their way during rush hour on the first working day after the Golden Week holiday amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Shinagawa station in Tokyo, Japan, May 7,2020.REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
TOKYO (Reuters) – As Japan prepares to ease coronavirus restrictions in some parts of the country, a growing number of the country’s businesses were planning to resume operations after month-long shutdowns have brought economic activity to a grinding halt.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday that the government was looking at ways to bring some parts of the country out of lockdown measures as infections in several regions outside main centres were reporting zero infections on a daily basis.
“The number of new infections of the coronavirus is significantly falling, he told reporters. “There are more prefectures with no new coronavirus cases, so lifting the state of emergency is within sight.”
After lockdown measures led to a record contraction of Japan’s services sector last month, businesses have been resuming operations even as the coronavirus epidemic has sapped consumer demand.
Casual clothing chain Uniqlo reopened 48 stores in Japan on Thursday, including several large stores in Tokyo and Osaka, its owner Fast Retailing said, while Aeon Co, the region’s biggest supermarket operator, said it was reopening its Aeon Mall shopping centres.
Japan this week extended its nationwide state of emergency to the end of May but said it would reassess the situation on May 14 and possibly lift the measures earlier for some prefectures.
So far, eight of Japan’s prefectures have lifted shutdown requests for businesses including cafes, bars and sports clubs. An additional 17 are planning to allow businesses to resume operations next week.
As of Friday, Japan has confirmed 15,500 coronavirus infections in the country and 590 deaths.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; additional reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Ritusko Ando; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Gerry Doyle