Japan’s retailers and manufacturers hunker down for longer closures

TOKYO — As Japan’s government looks set to extend its state of emergency for another month to combat the coronavirus outbreak, retailers and factory operators are scrambling to adjust their plans for long-term closures.

“I believe it is impossible to return to normal life from May 7,” Abe told reporters Thursday, referring to the date the current declaration is set to expire. “We should expect a rather long battle.”

Japanese officials will discuss extending the state of emergency in an expert meeting Friday.

Local governments will ask businesses to stay closed longer if an extension is announced. “We will await a decision while assuming that the state of emergency will probably be extended,” said Yuji Kuroiwa, governor of Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo. 

Businesses are already preparing. Department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, which closed 20 locations, was planning to resume business at some locations after May 6. But “it’ll be difficult to reopen if the emergency declaration is extended,” a company executive said.

Tobu Store will change the shutdown period for its department stores from until May 6 to “for the time being.” Aeon, Japan’s largest retailer, will keep the tenant-occupied sections of its 142 Aeon Mall shopping centers in Japan closed.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will consider extending the telework period for employees, slated to end on May 7 or 8, if the government decides on an extension. 

Some companies have yet to decide how to respond. 

Contractor Kajima was in talks with customers on resuming projects from May 7. “We’ll consider how to proceed going forward,” said a Kajima representative.

Toshiba, which shut Japanese operations groupwide through May 6, also had intended to resume business thereafter.

If some companies decide to resume work, the government’s stay-at-home requests could become less effective. But the pace of infection increases suggests the country is far from bringing the outbreak under control.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan reached 13,944 on Wednesday, tripling from 4,363 since the initial state of emergency covering several prefectures was declared April 7.

Yet case counts differ sharply from region to region. The number of new reported infections per day in Tokyo fell to 46 on Thursday from more than 200 in mid-April. But Hokkaido Prefecture is grappling with a second wave, with new cases rising to 41 on Thursday.

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