People wearing protective masks make their way amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at a business district in Tokyo on Thursday. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Work stoppages and no chatting at lunch: Japan Inc grapples with COVID

52 Comments
By Rocky Swift and Satoshi Sugiyama

Japanese companies are temporarily shutting offices or suspending production as they battle a record wave of COVID-19, disrupting businesses in a country that has until now weathered the pandemic better than most advanced economies.

Automakers Toyota Motor Corp and Daihatsu Motor Co last week halted production line shifts because of employee infections. KFC Holdings Japan Ltd has had to shut some fast-food restaurants and move staff to fill gaps, while Japan Post Holdings Co has temporarily shut more than 200 mailing centers.

Japan's tally of COVID cases has surged past those of other countries as the full impact of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants dominating around the world hits home. Japan had more than 1.4 million new COVID cases over the past week, World Health Organization data showed.

Companies are scrambling to cope.

"We have divided the meal time into several time slots and have told workers to sit in one direction and not to talk at all," Subaru Corp CFO Katsuyuki Mizuma told reporters recently, describing how the automaker was trying to fend off infections and work stoppages.

Newly diagnosed COVID cases reached an all-time high for Japan of almost 250,000 on Wednesday. Hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise too but not as drastically as in previous waves because of the prevalence of vaccinations and booster shots.

Japan has had an enviable record in its response to COVID, avoiding the disruptive lockdowns and big death tolls that have accompanied the pandemic elsewhere.

The country of 125.8 million people has had more than 32,000 deaths, a fraction of the tolls in the United States and Britain, for example.

The latest outbreak will likely show whether it can maintain its flexible response aimed at "living with corona" and limiting the economic impact, particularly if the disruption now being felt gets worse of lasts for an extended period.

"There is still a shortage of semiconductors and the spread of the coronavirus is currently increasing," a Toyota spokesperson said last week. "The future remains unpredictable."

Health authorities advise that those who test positive should quarantine for 10 days and their close contacts should isolate for at least five.

Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Group, said production and retail would feel some pain as infected people and their close contacts stay at home.

"As infections and close contacts increase, that will certainly weigh on people's confidence to go out for meals, shopping and the like," he said.

SUPPLY CHAINS

The disruption has particularly important implications for a job market at its tightest in decades, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises that make up the majority of Japan's companies.

Yoshiaki Katsuda an occupational health expert at the Kansai University of Social Welfare, said big companies can hire temporary workers to replace those who have to take time off but they are still vulnerable to supply chain headaches.

"If smaller companies that supply products ... have to shut down for a long period, then the production of bigger companies could be affected," he said.

The wave of infections is snarling transport too.

Railway operator Kyushu Railway Co suspended 120 train services in southern Japan last week when 53 crew members tested positive or where close contacts of cases. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd cancelled four ferry crossings in western Japan, and bus operator OdakyuBus Co Ltd slashed dozens of routes around Tokyo.

The central government has devolved authority on infection controls to prefectural governments, letting them step up precautions as they see fit. Twelve prefectures have enacted the measures with a focus on curbing risks to the elderly.

Support for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has sagged in recent polls as COVID surged, but a strong showing for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in elections last month has given him some breathing room, said Tetsuya Inoue, a senior researcher at Nomura Research Institute.

"For the moment, Mr Kishida and his administration are prioritizing the maintenance of economic activities rather than to return to very strict measures against COVID," Inoue said.

Inoue said that whatever the drag on the domestic economy that the wave of infections is causing, the bigger problem for Japan was lockdowns in China and the knock-on effects that they have on supply chains.

Relief for Japan's companies and the wider economy could be in sight. Health experts project this wave of infection to peak early this month.

"Given current trends, it is unlikely that infections will continue to expand over the long term, and there is little need to impose strict behavioral restrictions," doctors at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research wrote in a recent paper.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

52 Comments
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"We have divided the meal time into several time slots and have told workers to sit in one direction and not to talk at all," Subaru Corp CFO Katsuyuki Mizuma told reporters.

No talking?—perhaps not the case in all offices. My central-Tokyo office, which has a cafeteria, has also implemented time slots, but plenty of talking still occurs.

2 ( +10 / -8 )

Chatting at lunch? Socialising more more likely.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

"We have told workers to sit in one direction and not to talk at all"

Human rights?

2 ( +24 / -22 )

Japanese companies treat their employees like children. My HR person walked in last week and suggested this and I laughed. No chance.

14 ( +32 / -18 )

Health authorities advise that those who test positive should quarantine for 10 days and their close contacts should isolate for at least five.

I was over my bout of the virus in about 5 days.

I tested negative on the 5th day.

This ten day quarantine is not based on science.

2 ( +22 / -20 )

Japanese companies are temporarily shutting offices or suspending production as they battle a record wave of COVID-19, disrupting businesses in a country that has until now weathered the pandemic better than most advanced economies.

The latter part of this statement is highly disputable.

The former points to one of its obvious failures: Many salaried employees may work from home or get paid furloughs.

But many contracted /zero-hour staff will cope with reduced income.

Will the LDP step in to subsidize them?

As before, all signs point to no as the LDP continues to subsidize oil suppliers, hotel owners and advertising agencies.

4 ( +16 / -12 )

Clearly shows people don't know how to use the crosswalk

-9 ( +9 / -18 )

We have divided the meal time into several time slots and have told workers to sit in one direction and not to talk at all

This is already implemented in my company since the beginning of the pandemic, but even so we have now almost every week somebody who is infected.

I received my 5th test last week, because I am always in close contact with my positive coworkers.

But so far I am lucky, all 5 tests came out negative.

Another rule in my company is, that in case one of your family members is positive, you also should get tested and don't come to office.

These days the testing system in Japan is amazing or should I better say crazy.

Like I said, I got tested already 5x within the last weeks.

My son, he is just 7 years old, got already tested 2x.

First time he had symptoms like sore throat, a little fever and running nose. But his test result was negative.

1 week later he got a small ear infection, and he got tested again. Also negative.

I didn't know that a small ear infection counts for a covid test, but...yeah...

He got some antibiotics and now he is fine. It was a summer flu with a small ear infection.

I think, these high numbers in Japan are a result from the amazing or crazy testing these days in Japan.

I guess Japan had these high numbers already before, but because of no testing, nobody knows it.

But honestly speaking, everytime getting tested, when someone around me is positive is really annoying.

5x already tested...and probably no end in sight.

But there is another point...me, and many of my coworkers, vaccinated and non vaccinated, who got in close contact with a positive person, all our test results came out as negative.

One rule in my company is, you have to wear a mask nonstop.

Maybe wearing a mask protects us from not getting infected, even we got in close contact with a positive person.

Or the BA variants are not so transmittable like we are getting told.

Or, we all were just lucky, so far.

-12 ( +3 / -15 )

@Monty: At my office, we are not a "close contact" unless we were talking to the person without a mask for at least 10(?) minutes. It means it's nearly impossible to be a close contact except for lunch/drinking buddies. I thought this was the official Japanese government definition as well.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

You guys are being too loud in here, please keep it down.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

Mandate masks and no breathing within 6 feet of other people. Also, since the virus can enter through the eyes, goggles should be mandated. Come on people, we got this!

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Is Japan aiming for zero covid?

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

At my office, we are not a "close contact" unless we were talking to the person without a mask for at least 10(?) minutes.

I think many companies implemented their own strategies and ways.

Like I said, in my company we have to wear mask nonstop.

Also staff from our health division are walking around and do control that.

If they catch you without a mask, you get scolded by them.

The main problem I see in my office is that there are too many meaningless meetings with too many unnessasary people stucked in a small meeting room.

And the distance between the desks of each worker is too small.

Everyone who works in a japanese office knows what I mean.

I complained about that to my boss many times, even before corona, but my boss is deaf on his years when it comes to that topic.

I remember a few years ago we had an influenza outbreak in our office. 70 people sick at the same time.

And why? Because we are sitting so close to each other, like chickens in a stall.

But my boss said, no, it is influenza and influenza spreads easily.

That was his comment.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

"Japan's tally of COVID cases has surged past those of other countries..." yes, despite being one of the most highly vaxxed populations and the near-ubiquitous, zealous masking.

Perhaps the masking results in some self-infections?

-9 ( +9 / -18 )

Despite 3 years of time to prepare Japan still hasn't implemented sufficient work from home policies either. Most companies did it for PR and towing the line for a few weeks but never made moves to make it a possible thing in the future. Even with cases rising, close contacts literally everywhere, COVID has hit "influenza" status here. AKA "oh you got the flu? go to the doctor, stay home for a few days, oh your hard working guy, well come to the office but wear a mask and don't tell anyone you got it ok, wait why is everyone sick 3 days later? what happened?"

happens every year in my office lol

People would rather work in a crowded office and take public transport while dying sick instead of staying home. Place was a powder keg from the start with spreadable illnesses

2 ( +13 / -11 )

"We have divided the meal time into several time slots

you mean they are NOW doing what millions of other companies around the world have been doing for decades!?!?

do you think they will survive such outrageous ideas!???

what next?

people taking vacation times, spread out through the year? NOT Just boon or golden week?!?!?

flex schedules or maybe even work from home?!??

madness I tell you, madness!!!!!

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

Hurry up and open up I want to go homu!!

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Does this mean the 5 jabs, wearing of restrictive masks and social distancing doesn't work, or maybe we are being deceived.

4 ( +15 / -11 )

Andy...

Does this mean the 5 jabs, wearing of restrictive masks and social distancing doesn't work, or maybe we are being deceived.

No, the vaccines are working quite well. as do masks and social distancing.

You are probably being deceived. There is a lot of deliberate misinformation by people and groups with agendas. Be careful.

-3 ( +14 / -17 )

Just take the masks off and let this thing become part of our immunities. Medical students try not to wear masks as they need colds and flu to become part of their body immunity.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

@Mr Kipling you mean big pharma?

It works both ways pal

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

Gotta love the oyaji wearing a suit jacket in the beginning of August.

Blistering hot these days. Common sense. Just use some common sense.

9 ( +17 / -8 )

They've been doing this no-talking-face-the-same-direction-no-smiling in the break room thing at my company for a year now.

Just whispering through a mask isn't allowed in the well ventilated break room. A person sits in the corner and watches everybody.

But yet, you go into the offices, people are talking, chatting, talking (and bowing) loudly into the phones, standing close to each other and yacking in hundreds of meetings (many unnecessary) in small, cramped rooms.

Go figure.

2 ( +11 / -9 )

If that was me and I were vaccinated, I'd try to catch it. I tried to catch it here, and I did a few weeks ago. I'm relatively young and healthy, so it was a cold for 3 days with some body aches. Whoopidy doo.

Now I'm in a much better position regarding immune response, and everyone around me is safer as a result.

The 'Zero Covid' strategy, especially in a country with a very limited number of fat slobs with diabetes, is a fool's errand. Lots of people need to get it for it to largely go underground.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

This ten day quarantine is not based on science.

100% agree

the worst symptom I experienced during my 10 days was boredom

Clearly shows people don't know how to use the crosswalk

the keitai zombie on the left certainly doesn’t

6 ( +12 / -6 )

The vaccines did not stop the spread nor the number of deaths. Look at the documents from the government. The majority with Covid now are the ones who are double vaccinated. The unvaccinated continue to be fine

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

According to the CDC 1/5 of people get long Covid please stay safe…. The more people are now surviving, long Covid will be more prevalent.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

How did Japan go from being one of the most successful countries at dealing with covid, the envy of the world as some would have it, to being the basket case it is now? Maybe they need to rethink how they’re doing things.Just a thought.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Do they ever think to consider what effects these measures might have on the mental health on people?

5 ( +11 / -6 )

Stop riding overly crowded morning rush hour trains.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Health authorities advise that those who test positive should quarantine for 10 days and their close contacts should isolate for at least five.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my school employer has made it clear that if I get sick I must use my own money to get tested, and my own rest days if I don't come to work. So, I'll be going into work whatever.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

Just wow ….

“Just take the masks off and let this thing become part of our immunities. Medical students try not to wear masks as they need colds and flu to become part of their body immunity.”

What 3rd world country are you referring to with this patently false statement?

-9 ( +3 / -12 )

Why can’t I get a virus test from a convenience store here?

Just go in and buy it and test myself?

No, I have to register online or go through a questionnaire/registration at a pharmacy.

Japan makes the easiest options more difficult all the time…

4 ( +11 / -7 )

”Do they ever think to consider what effects these measures might have on the mental health on people?”

thats a very good point!

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Sounds like a communist Gulag, hard working is of course not forbidden, but breaks are held in time slots and without communication, everyone sitting in the same direction and forced to be silent. ‘Positive’ side effect, those silenced slaves can’t even make schedules for union meetings or demanding higher wages for balancing the hyperinflation.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

No talking? Sit in one direction?

HA! NO LIFE!!!

2 ( +10 / -8 )

Silence during lunchtime isn't an issue at my office.

Earnest silence, punctuated occasionally by the loud yawns of oyajis with their masks on their chins is the order of the day.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

"We have divided the meal time into several time slots and have told workers to sit in one direction and not to talk at all," Subaru Corp CFO Katsuyuki Mizuma told reporters.

No talking?—perhaps not the case in all offices. My central-Tokyo office, which has a cafeteria, has also implemented time slots, but plenty of talking still occurs.

Human rights?

Japanese companies treat their employees like children. My HR person walked in last week and suggested this and I laughed. No chance.

… in our cafeteria, no one talks while eating/only when strictly necessary/minimal talk… and from what I can see, no one’s “dying” because of it. Have your lunch; eat your d-mn food and get back to work. … and you know what: I like it this way; I was never a fan of spitting in each other’s plates anyway. People are too sensitive nowadays.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

These absurd nannying rules and contradictions will be the real death of society - not Covid. One example: Urawa Reds fans can now sing at football matches - we’re now at the peak of the wave. A few weeks ago when there was no wave, a few did and the club gets fined 20 million. In Hong Kong, there are 5000 cases a day, yet residents (and tourists!?) on arrival have to spend 7 days in a hotel or camp and get tested at least 5 times. When will people say to authority in all its guises: we are not living in a hospital - the same rules don’t apply. Enough is enough.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

"Health authorities advise that those who test positive should quarantine for 10 days and their close contacts should isolate for at least five."

This is insanity and the reason why you will have businesses, hospitals, factories, schools, etc unable to operate. It is not because the virus is causing severe illness and they are unable to work (for the majority it is very mild/less than a flu) - it is because these restrictions and ridiculous rules are making it impossible for them to do so.

Isn't it over half a year ago since many countries started lowering the self quarantine period to just 5 days (only if you had it)? And since then many no longer require any quarantine at all but put the trust in people to make their own decisions based on their health, i.e. just like we were doing before 2020? With no close contacts needing to quarantine at all.

To say Japan has an 'enviable record' is highly debatable. I know many places that are certainly doing much better than Japan right now in terms of cases and deaths all while enjoying normality - I don't imagine they envy Japan right now. It seems a few posters here clearly have not left Japan during the entire pandemic - travel broadens the mind - you would be in for a pleasant surprise if you went to places that have long since got over this and where life is very much back to normal. Indeed, it has been for some time.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

News flash Japan! All of your ‘quasi’ restrictions and half cooked ideas are not working. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Grow a pair and do something about the mass infections and strain on hospitals. Do it now!

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Stop riding overly crowded morning rush hour trains.

most people have to, to get to work

& before anyone says it, not everyone can do their work remotely

2 ( +4 / -2 )

“Is Japan aiming for zero covid?” Yes pretty obvious with over a million new reported cases per week lol

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The #1 key thing that all measures must address is that covid is airborne.

My impression is that people think they are safe as long as they others have a "mask" over their mouth when speaking.

While speaking produces more airborne particles than breathing, it's still coming out of our noses and leaking through our loosely fitting, 40% effective surgical masks.

We need to make airflow and air filtering #1 priority supplemented with keeping up with vaccine schedules (only 60% have had their booster in Tokyo), and learning how to correctly use and efficient mask, not the loose fitting show pieces sold in stores.

Rather than clicking downvote because I mentioned vaccines and masks as tools, I would appreciate a response detailing what is wrong about my post so I can correct my understanding.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

What else is new Japanese corporations treating its employees like slaves… what’s next, whip us if we sneeze!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Work stoppages and no chatting at lunch: Japan Inc grapples with COVID

It was never about covid 19, it's about controlling the masses,

and using fear is the manipulation that allows THIS to stand.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise too but not as drastically as in previous waves because of the prevalence of vaccinations and booster shots.

What evidence is there for such an assertion? It’s purely speculative. Despite the latest variants supposedly being a pale shadow of earlier ones, vaxxed to the max Australia has seen far more deaths in the first half of this year (close to 1,800 last month alone!) than in the entire preceding two years. Indeed, this directly contradicts the assertion.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

You cannot draw a comparrison with the UK on death rates, the UK had a unique system, if a person died of a non covid illness within 28 days of catching the covid virus, it was marked as a covid death.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Chatting at work in the worst, I’m sure everyone is relieved.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japanese companies are temporarily shutting offices or suspending production as they battle a record wave of COVID-19, disrupting businesses in a country that has until now weathered the pandemic better than most advanced economies.

The companies should adopt a zero covid policy.

Make everyone's life easier.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

It’s weird, some of my coworkers adhere to these super safe precautions, fully masked up , always hyper aware of space and distance you get the feel that ‘ small talk ‘ is not desired nor particularly welcome. You can feel the distance. Even after two years and with all that we have learned and all the data. Hyper vigilant, and to an Aussie born to throw caution to the wind, to be honest it’s getting a bit weird. Personally am over it. Won’t make a song and dance of it though, cause like they say in Thailand, “up to people”.

The other side…

My favorite local pizza and beer parlor dude yesterday said he has zero interest in masking up, the alcohol hand rub on his counter was given to him and he has never used it, not even once, hasn’t caught his rona yet nir does he really care. His personal mindset preference that has seemed to work well for him. Bit of a character. For the full two years his customers come in drink , eat and be merry. He never took a cent from the govt. in handouts, nor did they bother him.

Know quite few little shops like this and I think at this stage of the game I know which way I am gravitating too. Those with cahunas and not easily spooked or scared. Especially after having my two own knock on the door with rona a few weeks back. That was it???

Simple matter of choices now. Risk management, priorities and mindset. Am sure there wasn’t much talking going on at many of these Japan Inc. offices at lunchtime anyway. People are dealing with it through there own personalities and and their own psychology. Corona has I believed brought out the weakness rather than our strengths.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Sit in one direction and no talking...

My company did that, but also made us sit boy-girl-boy-girl and after eating our boss had to line us up back to our work space in single file with our fingers on our lips. Aren't you proud of us? Geez

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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