Japan urges work from home, staggered shifts to curb coronavirus

Rocky Swift, Reuters

Posted at Feb 25 2020 01:34 PM

People wearing protective masks are seen at the Shibuya sky observation deck, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 24, 2020. Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

TOKYO -- The Japanese government on Tuesday urged companies to recommend telecommuting and staggered shifts for workers in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan, approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, also urged people with symptoms of cold or fever to stay at home and asked event organizers to carefully consider whether to proceed with their plans.

Japan has 159 cases of infections from the flu-like coronavirus, apart from 691 on a cruise ship docked south of Tokyo. On Tuesday, broadcaster NHK reported a fourth death among passengers.

Rather than trying to contain the disease outright, authorities are seeking to slow its expansion and minimize deaths. Telecommuting, or working online or from home, would reduce the infection risk from people gathered in one place.

The government also pledged to take stronger steps to fight contagion in regions where there are clusters of cases. In recent days, there have been confirmed infections in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido and the western prefecture of Ishikawa as well as around the capital of Tokyo.

On Monday, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato convened a panel of medical experts to decide how to rein in the disease, now known as COVID-19.

Patient numbers could explode if infection spreads rapidly, overburdening the healthcare system and damaging the economy, the panel wrote on the health ministry website.

"We are entering a new phase. That's why it's a very critical moment now," Shigeru Omi, a panel member and president of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization, told a news briefing on Monday. "These coming weeks are very crucial."

Passengers who left the Diamond Princess after the end of quarantine on Feb. 19, mostly Japanese but with a sprinkling of foreigners, have been asked to stay at home and avoid public transport.

The United States and other countries took their citizens off before the official end of quarantine.