Tokyo’s red-light districts identified as top source of virus infections

People walk through a shopping street in Tokyo after a seven-week state of emergency was lifted in late May. (AP oic)

TOKYO: Hosts and hostess in Japanese nightclubs need to abide by rules and follow advice on how to interact with customers to stop the coronavirus spreading in nightlife districts, where infections have surged again, Japanese officials said on Friday.

The call came as Tokyo reported a record daily high of 243 new infections on Friday.

Infections in the capital have been creeping up since the government lifted a state of emergency about a month ago, with the Kabukicho red-light district becoming a major source of cases.

“We need to take steps quickly,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who leads Japan’s pandemic response, told reporters.

Clusters were found among Kabukicho’s many host clubs, where young men entertain women customers over drinks, and also at the female equivalent hostess or “cabaret” clubs.

Outbreaks have also been found in similar clubs in Ikebukuro’s red-light district, as well as in some cafes where women dress up as maids to entertain customers in the Akihabara electronics town.

“Infections are coming out of hostess and cabaret clubs and it’s important to take firm measures there,” Nishimura said. “We need to make sure they thoroughly follow guidelines.”

Nishimura said customers should be provided with enough space with good ventilation and avoid speaking loudly. He will meet experts and nightlife district officials later on Friday to decide on other measures.

The current coronavirus situation in Tokyo was different from April, when the government imposed a state of emergency telling people to stay at home and asking  businesses to close.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who will also join the meeting, said the metropolis would step up efforts to educate nightlife workers, including with a new video that will be available on its website next week.

At a media briefing, Koike showed a clip of the video in which a young host sits at a nightclub in one frame asking a doctor in the opposite frame, via video chat, what kind of symptoms young people could expect if they contracted the virus.

“In this way, they can pose whatever questions they have directly to a doctor and get easy-to-understand explanations,” she said, with questions ranging from how to safely greet customers to where to go to take a test.

Japan has had about 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 980 deaths.