Bullet trains, expressways, airports deserted ahead of Golden Week – Nationwide
Coronavirus fears left shinkansen bullet trains and expressways deserted on the first day of the Golden Week holiday on Saturday as the pace of infection in Japan has yet to show clear signs of slowing. Many of the shinkansen trains that left Tokyo Station were over 90 percent empty, operators said, despite Golden Week, a period made up of several closely spaced national holidays, being traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for the tourism industry. Meanwhile, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 103 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections in the capital to 3,836.
One Yamagata Shinkansen train, which connects Tokyo with cities in the northeast, departed Saturday morning with no passengers on board, East Japan Railway Co. said. Meanwhile, the Ebina service area on the Tomei Expressway on the western outskirts of Tokyo was nearly empty, and there was little or no traffic congestion on expressways across the country, according to operators. Airlines have also drastically reduced their services with 88 percent of domestic flights and 97 percent of international flights cancelled during the holiday week.
Japan’s state of emergency, declared on April 7 for Tokyo, Osaka and five other densely populated prefectures, was expanded to the entire country on April 16. Under the state of emergency effective through the last day of Golden Week on May 6, prefectural governors can take powerful steps to prevent the spread of the virus as the central government aims for an 80 percent reduction in person-to-person contact.
However, some retail outlets and recreational facilities have started to see an increase in the number of people visiting despite the stay-at-home request, forcing local leaders to ask residents to make additional efforts to limit their outings.
Wednesday, April 29 will be the first national holiday during this year’s Golden Week period, but the Tokyo metropolitan government is asking companies to implement a 12-day holiday from Saturday to keep their employees from going to the office. As of April 25, Japan has confirmed more than 13,800 cases of coronavirus infection and 371 deaths as a result of COVID-19.
Universities to help subsidize students’ costs for online learning – Nationwide
Japanese universities are set to provide students with cash to help them with costs related to taking online classes as the nation grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic under a nationwide state of emergency. Meiji Gakuin University said it will disburse 50,000 yen each to its 12,000 students to help them equip themselves with adequate internet connections and personal computers or tablets, with the Tokyo university switching to distance learning for its spring semester that began April 20. Kanagawa University also said it will extend 50,000 yen each to its 18,000 students as the university in Yokohama is set to conduct online classes from May 11. Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo and Tokai University in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, have announced similar aid for their students. Tokai said it will give up to 10,000 yen to each of its nearly 30,000 students based on their individual needs to help defray the costs of securing internet access and buying either a laptop or tablet computer.
Spring semester classes, delayed until May, will mainly be conducted remotely. Shibaura said that it will reduce tuition fees for all of its students in the second half of the academic year by 60,000 yen, an amount the university regards as online-related aid for the first half of the year that started in April. Tokai and Meiji Gakuin said they have also extended the deadline for tuition and other fees to late May to help alleviate the financial burden on students stemming from the epidemic. Meiji Gakuin, however, said it is not considering refunding or reducing its tuition or other fees, vowing to “provide the same high level of education as in normal years, even though part of it has to be done through online teaching.” It plans to offer special scholarships for students whose families are suffering acute economic hardship as a result of the novel coronavirus such as loss of earnings and sudden unemployment.
Other universities — including Tohoku University, Hiroshima University and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology — said they will extend emergency assistance to students in need, such as those unable to pay their rent and buy daily necessities due to the virus’ economic impact. Tohoku University in Sendai, north-eastern Japan, unveiled a total of 400 million yen in emergency assistance for students — ranging from support for distance learning and creating part-time jobs for about 2,500 students to providing scholarships to those in need of support in their daily lives. Hiroshima University in western Japan said it will provide emergency scholarships of 30,000 yen a month for students in urgent need.
Japan to review seal-stamping custom to better contain coronavirus – Nationwide
Japan will review its long-standing administrative custom requiring seal stamping on official documents as it has proven a major bottleneck in containing the coronavirus spread, sources close to the matter said Saturday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will instruct related government ministries to review laws at Monday’s meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, as the practice has prevented telework from being fully introduced with employees needing to go to offices to put seals on documents.
Private-sector members of the governmental council will also make an emergency proposal to review such a custom at the upcoming meeting, as they have found that most of the economy-boosting measures implemented in Japan require “hanko” stamps on documents to apply for them, the sources said.
In Japan, “hanko” or seals are widely used for signing contracts, business transactions and administrative procedures.
The council will also review another administrative custom of requiring a resident to report to a city office to directly request a service, as such a face-to-face procedure is also a hindrance to encouraging people to stay home.
On April 10, a survey by a think tank showed that about 60 percent of company employees in Tokyo and six other prefectures were still commuting to their offices despite the state of emergency declared for those areas to curb the coronavirus pandemic. The declaration was later expanded nationwide as Japan aims for an 80 percent reduction in person-to-person contact to contain the epidemic.