Japanese face 'new normal' after coronavirus emergency lifted

Akiko Okamoto and Chang-Ran Kim
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Japanese face 'new normal' after coronavirus emergency lifted

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tokyo, Japan

By Akiko Okamoto and Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) - A day after Japan ended its state of emergency, Tokyo residents took to the streets with a mixture of relief and trepidation as they prepared for a "new normal" of living with the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the state of emergency in the capital and four remaining prefectures on Monday, claiming victory for managing to keep total infections relatively low, at about 16,600 cases.

"I want to go out drinking and attend concerts," office worker Daisuke Tominaga told Reuters in Shibuya, one of Tokyo's busiest neighbourhoods.

Unlike strict lockdowns in other countries, Japan did not force businesses to close and some had reopened even before the emergency was lifted.

Still, its official end after some seven weeks saw many people returning to work or heading out, while observing social-distancing and wearing masks.

Naoto Furuki, 45, said his morning commute had been more crowded than usual, which was slightly unsettling.

"I'm still a bit worried. There maybe a second wave of the epidemic so we still need to be on alert," he said.

Many children are set to go back to school next week under precautionary measures such as staggered classes.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has warned against complacency and said everyone had to get used to a "new normal" of teleworking and staggered commutes until a vaccine or treatment is developed.

On Monday evening, the Rainbow Bridge, which spans northern Tokyo Bay, was illuminated in seven colours to mark the end of the state of emergency.

"Let's work together so the light of the Rainbow Bridge won't turn red," Koike said at a coronavirus policy meeting on Tuesday.

Many companies said they would let staff keep working from home, while railway operator Odakyu Electric Railway <9007.T> said it would release usage data to help passengers avoid crowded trains.

Electronics giant Sony Corp <6758.T> said it would only let up to 30% of its workforce back to the office in June, while Hitachi Ltd <6501.T> is aiming for half of its work to be done at home.

"We won't go back to our previous working style," Hitachi Executive Officer Hidenobu Nakahata told reporters. "We'll accelerate new working practices, making working-from-home a new standard."

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the coronavirus could change countries' industrial structure and people's behaviour.

"It may be hard for things to return to the ways before the pandemic hit," he told parliament.


(Reporting by Akiko Okamoto, Chang-Ran Kim, Makiko Yamazaki and Leika Kihara, Ju-min Park; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel & Shri Navaratnam)