New Coronavirus impact spreads throughout Japan

The Hokkaido Board of Education has decided to request a one-week closure of all 1,600 elementary and junior high schools in the prefecture from Thursday amid the new coronavirus outbreak. Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said he will do whatever he can to prevent the spread of infection.

The number of cases in Hokkaido has been rising every day, and is at 38 as of 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday. The region has the largest number of infected people in Japan. They include children, a teacher, a school-bus driver and a worker at a catering firm.

The spread of the virus is having a significant impact on various events and businesses in Japan.

Japan's professional soccer league, the J.League, is postponing all official matches for the next three weeks in response to the outbreak. The move affects the J-1 through J-3 leagues and applies to 94 official matches scheduled through March 15.

J.League Chairman Mitsuru Murai said the league will cooperate as much as possible in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

The J.League has canceled matches in the past due to bad weather and the 2011 disaster in northeastern Japan. But this is the first time it has postponed matches due to a virus outbreak.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested at a government task force meeting on Wednesday that major sporting, cultural and other events should be canceled, delayed or scaled down for the next two weeks. He said this will be a crucial juncture in terms of whether the outbreak can be brought to an end at an early date.

The Japan Sumo Association is now considering what to do about an upcoming competition. The second of the annual six regular championships is scheduled to begin at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on March 8. The association official says it has three choices: holding the event as planned, holding it without any spectators in attendance, or canceling it. They say the competition cannot be postponed as it is difficult to secure the venue.

Yokozuna Grand Champion Kakuryu says it's too bad that he can't shake hands with his fans or give autographs. He says he's taking care to minimize the chances of infection.

Sumo wrestlers are banned from having close contact with their fans out of concern about the coronavirus.

The government has called on the business sector to introduce staggered working hours and telework to prevent the spread of the virus. Major Japanese advertising agency Dentsu ordered about 5,000 staff to start working from home on Wednesday after an employee was confirmed infected.

A major cosmetics company, Shiseido, also switched to telework on Wednesday. The move involves about 8,000 employees, or 30% of its workforce, including group companies. Staff who serve customers at department stores have been instructed to refrain from touching customers' skin and to wear masks and wash their hands.

Japan's industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Tuesday, "Flextime and telework can be effective in stopping the further spread of the virus. The ministry will ask business organizations and companies to encourage employees to avoid commuting during the rush hour or to work from home."

Dentsu says a male worker in his 50s at its headquarters in Tokyo was confirmed on Monday to be infected.

The Japanese government had released basic guidelines on Tuesday on how to prevent the virus from spreading and is calling on organizers to consider canceling or postponing events, though this is not mandatory. It says everyone needs to join the effort to minimize the impact.