Tokyo Alert system debuts as coronavirus cases rise

On Tuesday night, the offices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Rainbow Bridge were illuminated in red. It’s a new measure the government has dubbed "Tokyo Alert,” designed to signal to people that coronavirus infections in the city have passed a certain threshold.

Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko gave a news conference on Tuesday night to explain the idea. She said she wants to urge residents to remain cautious as social and economic activities resume.

But she said the government isn’t planning to reimpose any business suspension requests. She said the capital can continue to resume social and economic activities while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Why now?

The government says it will issue the Tokyo Alert if the average number of new daily cases is above 20, if more than 50% of infection routes are unknown, or if the number of new cases in one week is greater than the number in the previous seven days.

Officials reported 34 new infections in the capital on Tuesday. That's the first time the number has topped 30 in nearly three weeks. And the number of confirmed cases in the week until Tuesday was more than double that of the previous week.

Caution in night district

The officials are particularly concerned about infections at bars and night clubs. About one third of the 90 cases confirmed in Tokyo over the past week have been linked to nightlife establishments. And because the employees have contact with so many strangers, it makes it difficult to trace infection routes.

The Kabukicho area of Shinjuku is one of the most popular nightlife areas in Japan.

Many of the cases have been connected to the Kabukicho neighborhood, where many establishments have stayed open because owners say they can’t afford to lose any more revenue.

Professor Kaku Mitsuo, an infectious disease expert with Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University, says nightlife areas are where the risk is greatest.

“Those businesses should be paid to stay closed,” he says. “Without a strong measure, infections could spread quickly."

Japan’s minister for economic revitalization, Nishimura Yasutoshi, says experts have begun working with entertainment industry leaders to draw up guidelines for nightclub and bar owners.

Koike says she understands that owners are relieved to be finally reopening their businesses, but adds that they must operate with an understanding of the new normal.