Japanese face ‘new normal’ after coronavirus emergency lifted

TOKYO (Reuters) – A day after Japan's state of emergency ended, Tokyo residents took to the streets with a mixture of relief and concern to prepare for a “new normal” life for the novel corona virus.

Passers-by wearing protective masks after the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) go to the intersection in the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, Japan on May 26, 2020, on the first day after the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency. REUTERS / Issei Kato

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the state of emergency in the capital and four remaining prefectures on Monday, claiming victory because he managed to keep the total number of infections relatively low at around 16,600 cases.

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

Unlike stringent barriers in other countries, Japan did not force companies to close, and some had reopened before the emergency was lifted.

After seven weeks, many people officially returned to work or set off while watching social distance and wearing masks.

Naoto Furuki, 45, said his morning commute was overcrowded, which was a little worrying.

"I'm still a little worried. There may be a second wave of the epidemic, so we still have to be on alert," he said.

Many children will go back to school next week with precautions like staggered classes.

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

On Monday evening, the rainbow bridge that spanned the northern bay of Tokyo was illuminated in seven colors to mark the end of the state of emergency.

"Let's work together so the rainbow bridge light doesn't turn red," Koike said at a corona virus policy meeting on Tuesday.

Many companies said they would let employees continue working from home, while rail operator Odakyu Electric Railway published usage data to help passengers avoid overcrowded trains.

Electronics giant Sony Corp said it will only leave up to 30% of its workforce back to the office in June, while Hitachi Ltd plans to do half of its work at home.

"We will not revert to our previous style of work," Hidenobu Nakahata, Hitachi's executive officer, told reporters. "We will accelerate new work practices and make work from home a new standard."

Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the coronavirus could change countries' industrial structure and behavior.

"It can be difficult to get things back on track before the pandemic," he told Parliament.

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

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