The governor of Tokyo has asked the city’s residents to stay at home this weekend to avoid an “explosion” of Covid-19 infections following a rise in the number of local cases.
Yuriko Koike described the situation as “severe”, but stopped short of calling for the kind of restrictions on movement now in place in other countries.
“We urge people at all costs to refrain from going out this weekend if it’s not urgent,” Koike said at an emergency news conference on Wednesday evening.
Social media users posted photos of empty supermarket shelves after Koike’s announcement, while other stores appeared to be running very low only on items such as pasta, instant noodles and toilet paper.
Tokyo – a city of 13 million people – reported 41 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the largest daily number and more than double the number reported the previous day.
With a total of 212 cases, Tokyo has overtaken the northern island of Hokkaido, previously the most affected of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Hokkaido, which has seen 167 cases and seven deaths, last week ended its state of emergency after appearing to bring the local outbreak under control.
Koike also encouraged Tokyo residents to work at home during weekdays and avoid restaurants in the evening. Large-scale events should be cancelled through to 12 April, she added.
“Starting this week, there are increasing concerns that we could see an explosion of infections,” Koike said, adding that she would consider more stringent measures if the rise in new cases could not be contained.
The coronavirus outbreak has infected 1,271 people across Japan, with 44 deaths linked to the virus, the public broadcaster NHK said. Those figures do not include 712 cases and 10 deaths aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which was quarantined in Yokohama last month.
Despite the relatively low number of cases in Japan, there is concern that people who recently returned from overseas could set off a second wave of infections.
In response, the foreign ministry has urged people to avoid all non-essential overseas travel. The advice applies to all countries, irrespective of how severely they have been affected by the virus.
The health ministry estimates the number of cases in Tokyo could rise to about 530 by 8 April, Kyodo news reported.
“We have entered the second wave of infections, which completely differs from January through February,” a ministry group dealing with Covid-19 clusters said in a report to the Tokyo metropolitan government.