In a statement posted on Twitter over the weekend, Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor of virology at Tohoku University in northeastern Japan and a government adviser, wrote that “the risk of infection is very low if people continue ordinary living, unless they go to hot spots.” Those places are defined by the government as the “3 Cs” — closed spaces where crowds meet in close proximity.
In Tokyo, by most measures the world’s largest city, cases have doubled in the last five days to more than 1,000. Now, some government advisers are warning of a perilous new phase.
“It’s possible that Tokyo has entered a period of explosive and exponential growth,” Hiroshi Nishiura, an epidemiology professor at Hokkaido University in northern Japan and a member of an expert panel advising Japan’s government, told the newspaper Nikkei last week. “It’s necessary to issue a stronger restriction on going out than” telling people to exercise self-restraint, Professor Nishiura said.
The Japanese Constitution would need to be amended to impose and enforce a lockdown. The law enacted last month under which Mr. Abe declared the state of emergency does not give him the power to issue stay-at-home orders or force businesses to close, as other hard-hit countries have done. Mr. Abe can ask prefectural governors to shut schools and order building owners to contribute facilities for medical use, but the authorities cannot take punitive action against anyone who disregards suggestions to stay inside or to work remotely.
Mikiko Eto, principal of the Hatto Nursery School in Tokyo, said she hoped that parents would comply with the soft directives. Until last week, most of the 150 children who regularly attend were still showing up every morning.
Despite daily temperature checks and frequent disinfection of toys and tables, staff members worry about contracting the coronavirus, Ms. Eto said. “Many parents come and go,” she noted, “which makes us feel stressed and nervous.”
On Monday, with confirmed cases in Tokyo spiking, Ms. Eto sent an email to parents asking them to keep their children at home. About a third of the children did not come that day, she said. The prime minister said on Tuesday that day care centers would not be forced to close because some parents might still need care for their children.